The concept of Indigenous Data Sovereignty is relatively new, and its application into the Blockchain space, even newer. Indigenous communities have long considered the implications of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) for the collection, ownership, and application of data pertaining to Indigenous peoples and what that might mean for Indigenous peoples' sovereignty, especially with the emergence of various technologies.
In Canada, there are at least 1.6 million Indigenous people, representing more than 5% of the total population. This population has a need for transparent, accessible technology that addresses the unique nuances of the pan-Indigenous populace, and challenges to achieve the sovereignty they've been denied for so long.
The emergence of Indigenous Sovereignty and Indigenous Data Governance (IDG) movements are, according to Maiam Nayri Wingara (an Indigenous Sovereignty Collective) a result of a response to poor data practices, from the conceptualisation of data items through accurate reporting of data about Indigenous peoples.
Wingara argues that Indigenous peoples have always been data collectors and protectors. In keeping with these practices, Indigenous groups have recently engaged in the data space in response to historical practices as a modern reinvention of old traditions. The primary goal is to create and guide good Indigenous-centric practices going forward in the digital space.
Achieving digital Indigenous Sovereignty, however, is not without its challenges.
According to Animikii, an Indigenous based software development agency:
"Indigenous organizations, including governments, don’t often have full control over their own finances. In a capitalistic settler-colonial economy, it’s difficult to make a lot of money when you own little land. Meanwhile, the value of land is ruled by supply and demand where there’s always a demand but little supply. Control of the economy is a central element of sovereignty. Without it, Indigenous Peoples must negotiate with outside entities and shuffle funds from one program to another just to keep the lights on, much less support vital infrastructure."
Furthermore, they add:
"It’s hard to even think about funding expensive Information
Technology (IT) projects when your community doesn’t have reliable internet, much less affordable electricity or clean drinking water.
Although there are high barriers to entry, there is still a growing emergence of projects currently in development.
In Canada, the University of British Colombia (UBC) is developing a project to provide data sovereignty for Indigenous Sovereignty and address the challenges associated with Indigenous Sovereignty in the tech space. The First Nations Technology Council (FNTC) is also engaged with the project. FNTC is an Indigenous-led not-for-profit working to ensure that Indigenous peoples have the tools, education, and support to thrive in the digital age.
This project will facilitate the development of a sovereign data resource management platform for First Nation communities in Britsh Colombia.
UBC will use a platform called Attaverse to build a prototype for a blockchain community and reciprocity currency platform. They hope to carve out trees of knowledge to foster better cross-cultural understanding and communication which will serve as a holder for future research.
UBC believes that the spirit of this technology provides itself well to self-organization and the interests of communities, where the concepts of personal sovereignty are reflected in traditional Indigenous sovereignty with an emphasis on interconnection responsibilities.
UBC and FNTC are committed to forming appropriate partnerships in the unique global context surrounding First Nations on the Salish Coast, to create a transferable and scalable platform, that may continue reconciliation efforts in British Colombia.
This project’s focus is on the following three parallel processes:
Blockchain for Reconciliation (B4R) is a membership-based organization established in Canada in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The organization does not develop the technology themselves, but rather sees themselves as a filter layer to encourage collaboration between Indigenous communities.
Through the Blockchain for Reconciliation Project and by engaging Indigenous communities on the potential of Distributed Ledger Technologies, this project wishes to work directly with them on developing tangible use cases, help create a reconciliation mandate, and to strengthen Indigenous communities with technology.
According to B4R:
“Creating equity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians will allow us to demonstrate the inequality of the initial system. We can show North Americans how the increased transparency created by distributed ledger technology can lead to better outcomes for everyone, both socially and economically.”
Although Indigenous Sovereignty is still emerging and evolving, Indigenous peoples are bridging the gap by upholding their traditions in a modern age using blockchain technology. Despite various challenges, technological innovation is striving to uphold human rights and free and open access to data. Utilizing blockchain to promulgate this goal may grant Indigenous people increased control over their narratives and help to preserve historical practices for future generations.
Laura Marissa Cullell is an MA Graduate of the UN University for Peace in International Law and Human Rights. She wrote her thesis on Blockchain and the Sustainable Development Goals: Utilizing Disruptive Technologies to Promote Human Rights, Peace, and Good Governance. She loves puns, cookie dough, glitter, and reading an obscene amount of books at the speed of light.
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