Indigenous Data Governance Principles

Many Indigenous communities have developed data governance frameworks to guide research data management. These frameworks respond to and stand against unethical, extractive, deficit-based and harmful research practices.  

“Ethical research is based fundamentally on the respect for the individuals who participate in the research project. Contrary to this, research that is conducted with First Nations has a history, an ongoing legacy of poor practice. There are fundamental flaws in research conducted to date with First Nations. Solutions to these flaws include a well designed, ethically conducted research which include protocols and codes of ethics. First Nations need to play an active role in the design of the research project. In order to achieve fundamental key principles to ethical research, IE obtaining prior informed consent, protection of privacy, confidentiality, and intellectual property.” 

 (Ethics in First Nations Research, Assembly of First Nations, 2009) 

These guidelines do not dictate specific research designs. Instead, researchers must create their own research protocols that adhere to and engage with these principles and frameworks. 


A part of Indigenous data principles is Indigenous Data Sovereignty. Indigenous Data Sovereignty is how Indigenous Peoples’ exercise authority over their own data, over how their data is framed, and how their data is managed.  

Indigenous data sovereignty is an aspiration to be achieved through data governance ... Native nations exercise IDS through the interrelated processes of Indigenous data governance and decolonizing data. Decolonizing data occurs as Indigenous nations and other data agents replace external, non-Indigenous norms and priorities with Indigenous systems that define data, and inform how it is collected and used. It results in findings—derived both from Indigenous data collected externally and from internal data produced by Indigenous nations—that reflect the understandings of those peoples. Indigenous data governance is the act of harnessing tribal cultures, values, principles, and mechanisms—Indigenous ways of knowing and doing—and applying them to the management and control of an Indigenous nation’s data ecosystem (Rainie et al. 2017b, Walter et al. 2018).  

“Indigenous data governance is decision making. It is the power to decide how and when Indigenous data are gathered, analysed, accessed and used” (Walter et al. 2018, p. 3).  

Indigenous data can include:

  • Data about Indigenous resources and environments. Land management and land history, geological data, or information about wildlife or water sources would all be in this category.
  • Data about Indigenous Peoples, communities, or Nations. This includes social data like demographics, health information, employment data, or education statistics.
  • Data from Indigenous communities. This encompasses data which relates to ancestral knowledge and cultural practices, including language, song, stories, oral histories, or images.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty by Keeta Gladue

Indigenous Community Data Governance Frameworks

Several Indigenous community-developed frameworks have been created to guide researchers in the designing of their Indigenous research data management protocols. Note: OCAP, often the most recognizable of these principle frameworks, was specifically developed for use with First Nations communities. Researchers/ research teams should consider which frameworks would be most appropriate for use in their research.

  • OCAP®: Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession (FNIGC, 1998)

The OCAP® principles are a set of standards to guide Indigenous data governance.

OCAP® stands for ownership, control, access, and possession:    

  • Ownership: Indigenous communities own their information in the same way that an individual would own their personal information.  
  • Control: Indigenous communities and Nations can seek control over research data and its management at all stages of the research cycle.
  • Access: Indigenous communities and Nations must be able to access data about themselves and have the right to make or be involved in decisions regarding access to the data.
  • Possession: Physical control of the data should be with the First Nation or Indigenous-controlled steward, or otherwise with a third party data steward (decided upon by the Indigenous community or Nation) who will ensure the principles of ownership, control, and access are upheld. 


These principles should not be considered as rigid rules but as a starting point for ethical research with Métis communities

  • Reciprocal Relationships: Researchers should build equal partnerships with the Métis community, engage with community members, and ensure that responsibilities and benefits are shared.

  • Respect: Respect should be shown for individual and collective perspectives, community practices and protocols, confidentiality, autonomy, identity, and gender diversity.

  • Safe and Inclusive Environments: Research must be inclusive of various age groups, genders, sexual identities, and diverse concepts of Aboriginality, and should maintain inclusivity throughout the research process.

  • Diversity: Researchers should recognize and account for the diversity within Métis communities, including differences in beliefs, values, worldviews, and geographic locations.

  • Research Should Have Outcomes: Ethical research should have outcomes that are relevant to the Métis community, accurate, beneficial to all involved, responsible, and should acknowledge the contributions of participants and community partners.

  • Métis Context: Researchers should have a deep understanding of Métis history, values, knowledge, and context. They should also involve Métis experts and navigate the complexities of Métis worldviews and straddling of cultural perspectives.


The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami National Inuit Strategy on Research outlines several priority areas and objectives to advance research in the Inuit community:

  • Priority Area 1: Advance Inuit Governance in Research This area emphasizes the need for Inuit self-determination in research. Key objectives include achieving greater Inuit representation in research governance, reforming research-related legislative and policy mechanisms, and ensuring Inuit self-determination in research governance.
  • Priority Area 2: Enhance the Ethical Conduct of Research This priority focuses on improving the ethical conduct of research in Inuit communities. Objectives include regulating the ethical conduct of research, supporting Inuit-led research ethics review processes, and developing Inuit-specific ethics guidelines.
  • Priority Area 3: Align Funding with Inuit Research Priorities This area highlights the importance of aligning research funding with Inuit research priorities. Objectives include advancing Inuit self-determination in data collection, investing in Inuit-led data and information technology, and ensuring Inuit ownership of data.
  • Priority Area 4: Ensure Inuit Access, Ownership, and Control over Data and Information This priority emphasizes Inuit access, ownership, and control over data and information. Objectives include building human resource capacity in Inuit regions, establishing an Inuit Nunangat university, and enhancing research infrastructure in Inuit communities.
  • Priority Area 5: Build Capacity in Inuit Nunangat Research This priority focuses on building research capacity in Inuit Nunangat. Objectives include broadening research funding criteria to recognize Inuit research methodologies, investing in broadband access, building infrastructure in Inuit communities, and developing Inuit-specific training and education programs.


The CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance guide the use of Indigenous data and reflect the importance of data to Indigenous self-determination:

  • Collective Benefit: Indigenous Peoples should benefit from the data and the research aligns with the needs and goals of the community.
  • Authority to Control: Indigenous Peoples have agency to make decisions regarding data governance and how they are represented in the data. Indigenous data must be accessible to Indigenous communities.
  • Responsibility: Researchers are accountable to Indigenous communities and must be able to demonstrate how their use of Indigenous data benefits the Indigenous Peoples and their self-determination. Evidence of benefits must be shared and resources must be grounded in Indigenous language and worldviews.
  • Ethics: Indigenous rights and wellbeing are central during all stages of the data lifecycle. Risk assessments must be considered from an Indigenous perspective. 

These principles encompass three key entities: data, metadata (information about data), and infrastructure. They guide researchers in ensuring that scientific data are effectively managed and made available for broader use while maintaining machine-actionability to support data-driven research.

  • Findable (F): The first step is ensuring data can be easily found by both humans and computers. This involves assigning globally unique and persistent identifiers to data, describing data with rich metadata, including data identifiers in metadata, and registering or indexing data in searchable resources.
  • Accessible (A): Once data is found, users need to know how to access it, potentially involving authentication and authorization. Data should be retrievable by their identifier using a standardized, open, and universally implementable communications protocol. Metadata should remain accessible even when the data is no longer available.
  • Interoperable (I): Data often need to be integrated with other data and must be able to interoperate with various applications and workflows. This requires using formal, shared, and broadly applicable languages for knowledge representation, employing vocabularies adhering to FAIR principles, and including qualified references to other data.
  • Reusable (R): The ultimate goal is to optimize data reuse. To achieve this, data and metadata should be well-described, have clear and accessible usage licenses, be associated with detailed provenance information, and meet relevant community standards.


Research Ethics Boards ask that researchers articulate which framework they will be using, why that framework best supports the projects, and how the principles will be enacted in the research design. REBs are most interested in HOW the research team will reflect and action the Indigenous data principles in the research project.

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