Fighting for Māori data rights

1 November 2019

Maui & Tahu
Associate Professor Maui Hudson (left) and Professor Tahu Kukutai (right) have been part of the recent launch of GIDA (Global Indigenous Data Alliance).

Data is now considered to be one of the key enablers behind many of today’s big tech companies, like Amazon, Facebook and Google, to name a few.

Billions of internet users each year produce vast amounts of data that is consumed, analysed and monetised by businesses that have embraced the big data era.

But as the value of data continues to grow, so too do the concerns people have around data and its use.

For Māori and Indigenous people world-wide, data is a taonga – something that is highly prized. And there is growing concern among Indigenous communities that use of their data by external parties could lead to stigmatisation, and cultural harm.

Two researchers from the University of Waikato have realised this, and are helping to pioneer a global initiative that seeks to restore control of data to Indigenous people.

Professor Tahu Kukutai and Associate Professor Maui Hudson recently aided the launch of the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA), which provides an international forum for Indigenous peoples to collectively progress their goals for data sovereignty and data governance.

As a first step, GIDA has published its CARE Principles (CARE standing for Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility and Ethics), with the aim of providing the first international framework for the ethical use of Indigenous data.

Associate Professor Hudson says GIDA is a step forward to ensuring Māori have rights and ownership to information that is considered sacred.

“Data sovereignty has been a topic of importance among Māori for some time,” he says.

“By ensuring our people have rights and ownership to our own data, we can continue to have a say in matters that are about us and for us.”

Associate Professor Hudson says limited access to data can affect Māori when it comes to taonga species. An example of that is genomic data, or DNA about organisms that are of importance to Māori.

“Māori communities agree to work on projects that generate genomic data for conservation purposes, but that data is made available across the globe,” he says.

“When other people access the data for commercial purposes, there are no mechanisms to ensure Māori communities get to benefit from it.

“Māori data sovereignty reinforces Māori rights and interests in data which necessitates their involvement in decisions about appropriate governance, access and use.”

In terms of understanding what Māori data is, Professor Kukutai says it refers to information or knowledge in a digital form that is about or from Māori people, their language, culture, resources or environments, regardless of who controls it.

“As data integration and data sharing increases, the issue of consent becomes ever more important,” says Dr Kukutai.

“Free, prior and informed consent should underpin the collection and use of all data from or about Māori. Less defined types of consent must be balanced by stronger governance arrangements.”

Professor Kukutai and Associate Professor Hudson are also founding members of the Māori Data Sovereignty Network Te Mana Raraunga.

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