Iram Safdar

Iram Safdar

Last updated on 10 May 2021

Iram Safdar is the Digital Archivist at Historic Environment Scotland. She attended IDCC 2021 and the RDA 17th Virtual Plenary with support from the DPC’s Career Development Fund, which is funded by DPC Supporters

Thank you to the Digital Preservation Coalition Career Development Fund, without which I would not have been able to attend the International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC21). This year, the IDCC took place virtually, over one day and was a co-located event with the RDA 17th Virtual Plenary, as part of an Edinburgh week of data management. This is the first time I have been able to attend the IDCC, and coming from a background in the archives profession, specialising in digital archives, I was looking forward to learning more about the ways we can manage and curate our digital data, and make it accessible.

The opening keynote, titled ‘Indigenous Sovereignty of Language Data – the Māori example’, was delivered by Te Taka Keegan, Associate Professor in Computing, and Associate Dean Mãori for the Division of Health, Engineering, Computing & Science at the University of Waikato. A Māori language activist, Te Taka started the keynote with a greeting in his language, roughly translating to ‘Honor and glory above, peace on Earth, goodwill to everyone’.

Te Taka noted that there is a significant community undertaking research based on open data and utilising big data to generate resources and initiatives, however, Te Taka identified a few issues with this in terms of Indigenous data. Te Taka observed the increase in collections using Indigenous data, that Indigenous communities themselves are not aware of. Furthermore, collections are generally not own by Indigenous Peoples, and they don’t have a say on how they are run, what information is stored – the crux of the issue being, Indigenous information is being made available that Indigenous Peoples have no control over.


What is Indigenous data?
Data, information and knowledge, in any format, that impacts Indigenous Peoples, nations, and communities at the collection and individual levels:

  • Data about resources and environments
  • Data about Indigenous individuals
  • Data about Collectives – Nations and Peoples


Sovereignty of Indigenous data
This brought us to the issue of the sovereignty of data, a term I wasn’t familiar with, but covered issues of ownership and use that as, an archivist working in the Heritage sector, I was very interested in. Indigenous data sovereignty is the right of a nation to govern the collection, ownership and application of its own data. Te Taka summed this up as the issue of ‘data we can use for governance and the governance of our data’.


Starting with the concept of making data more accessible, Te Taka mentioned the FAIR Data Principles, of Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability and Re-usability – a set of principles that I, and much of the cohort, are familiar with and support the implementation of at our respective organisations. However, recognising the need to extend the FAIR Data Principles, which focus on characteristics of data that facilitate sharing, the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA) established the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance. Designed to complement the FAIR Principles, the CARE Principles of Collective Benefit, Authority to Control, Responsibility and Ethics, include the right to create value from Indigenous data to advance Indigenous innovation and self-determination, taking into account power differentials and historical contexts.

Te Mana Raraunga, the Mãori Data Sovereignty Network, also established their own principles, the Principles of Mãori Data Sovereignty, which include Authority, Relationships, Obligations, Collective benefit, Reciprocity and Guardianship. Te Taka says these do align with the CARE Principles but are more specific as to how the network sees the protection of their data in New Zealand. Te Taka also shows us a new license; the Kaitiakitana license developed by Te Hiku Media, which states data is not owned but is cared for under the principle of kaitiakitanga, and any benefit derived from the data flows to the source of the data.


Questions to ask yourself
When looking at data and trying to decide which data set is best for different purposes, Te Taka poses a number of questions around how data can be used:

1. Who’s data is it?
2. Who receives benefit?
3. Who will have control over the data?
4. Who receives financial gain?

Te Taka states that despite his collection of Mãori data, Mãori data belongs to all Mãori people. Te Taka then took us through a number of case studies in applying these questions, looking at how Microsoft Office and Windows, Google Translator Toolkit, University of Waikato Macroniser online tool and the SwiftKey keyboard tool have used Mãori data. Te Taka closed his keynote on a plea; if you are ever using data which might have an Indigenous tie, please ask yourself the four questions. Te Taka posits that Mãori people should be in control of Mãori data as only they know its true value and where it can be used best. Te Taka notes a lot of Mãori data has been shared but is it very rare that financial gain comes back to Mãori peoples; how can we generate financial gain for the people this data belongs to?

Te Taka Keegan’s keynote was exceptionally thought-provoking and a fantastic start to IDCC21. It is vital to think about the opening up and sharing of data situated in historical contexts and power imbalances; we ought not to manage data in a vacuum and need to recognise the tensions in open licenses and data sovereignty in order to find solutions which empower Indigenous Peoples. I look forward to applying the principles I’ve learnt from Te Taka to ensure I recognise differing ownerships to data and to ensure a FAIR and CARE approach to the sharing and use of data.   

Scroll to top