Exploring Indigenous Data Sovereignty

view through met tower
Data monitoring tower at SIPI (click to enlarge)

The concept of Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS) asserts that data generated by Indigenous peoples, including data generated from their land and resources, should be governed by the people themselves. Environmental observations collected on native lands are one small part of the IDS context, and they were the subject of a recent workshop hosted by the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The workshop, titled Exploring Data Sovereignty and the Sovereign Data Network was held February 13-15, 2024. More than 40 individuals from Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), R1 universities, and other agencies and groups associated with IDS and Earth System Science (ESS) attended, including several participants affiliated with NSF Unidata.

The workshop was supported by an NSF NCAR Collaborative Opportunities for Research Engagement (CORE) award, which aims to “...develop a set of considerations for how Earth system science programs can implement data sovereignty principles in any efforts that involve collaborations with Indigenous communities or data collected on Indigenous lands or related to Indigenous resources.”

Patrick Freeland
Patrick Freeland discussing Project Red Bus and RVCC

Day one of the workshop focused on the topic of Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Governance, exploring the background and motivations for Data Sovereignty and Indigenous Data Management. There were also reports from organizations working in the IDS field, including the Environmental Data Science Innovation & Inclusion Lab (ESIIL), ProjectRedBus, and the Rising Voices, Changing Coasts hub.

Stonie Cooper
NSF Unidata's Stonie Cooper discussing Mesonets on Tribal lands.

Day two discussions and activities centered around the Sovereign Data Network (SDN) project, a collaboration begun by SIPI, Navajo Technical University (NTU), and NSF Unidata and supported by a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) pilot grant. There were descriptions of the pilot project, discussions about how other groups can become part of the network as it expands. There was also a data workshop with demonstrations and training on the use of repository storage systems including RAMADDA, which was initially created at NSF Unidata and is now supported by Geode Systems.

Observing tower at SIPI.
Observing tower at SIPI.

Day three was focused on “hands on data wrangling” and systems (servers and dataloggers) support, and included a visit to the environmental monitoring station on the SIPI campus, which includes a data collection tower constructed as part of the SDN pilot project.

As a result of the workshop, several TCUs and other organizations including

  • Oglala Community College
  • Aaniiih Nakoda College
  • Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa College
  • The Haskell Foundation
  • The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC)
  • Rising Voices, Changing Coasts (RVCC)

expressed interest in joining the SDN and participating in future organizing and funding efforts.

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