Plenary Keynote

Indigenous Data Sovereignty — The Journey, and the Destination

Panel: Tahu Kukutai, Maggie Walter, Donna Cormack
Chair: Sacha McMeeking

The digital age was still in its infancy when Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith argued in Decolonizing Methodologies (1999)  that for the colonised indigenous world, numbers were routinely used to rationalise the indigenous person’s dispossession and marginalisation. Over the next two decades, as information became currency and data became a tool of first resort for government and policy makers, indigenous peoples were too often the unwilling targets of data-driven policy interventions, with little say over the collection, use and application of data about them, their lands and cultures.

The members of DHA2021’s opening keynote panel have been leaders in challenging such policies, repeatedly making the case that indigenous peoples should control such data, participate effectively in data gathering and research, and have access to resulting data for use by them in policy articulation, in planning and in monitoring and evaluation efforts. As argued in the preface to Indigenous Data Sovereignty: Toward an Agenda (Ed. Tahu Kukutai and John Taylor, 2016), the concept of data sovereignty is linked with “indigenous peoples’ right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as their right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over these.”

In this keynote kōrero, Tahu Kukutai, Maggie Walter and Donna Cormack discuss with chair Sacha McMeeking their journeys as academic advocates and activists working to ensure Indigenous Data Sovereignty is recognized and protected. In response to the conference theme ‘Ka Renarena Te Taukaea / Creating Communities’ they also share their visions of what full and fair implementation of an Indigenous Data Sovereignty agenda might mean for indigenous communities in the 21st century.

Professor Tahu Kukutai 

University of Waikato

Tahu Kukutai (Ngāti Tiipa, Ngāti Kinohaku, Te Aupōuri) is Professor of Demography at the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, The University of Waikato. Tahu specialises in Māori and indigenous demographic research and has written extensively on issues of Māori population change and identity, official statistics and ethnic classification. Tahu is a founding member of the Māori Data Sovereignty Network Te Mana Raraunga and the Global Indigenous Data Alliance. She co-edited Indigenous data sovereignty: Toward an agenda (ANU Press), Indigenous data sovereignty and policy (Routledge), and the forthcoming volume International handbook of Indigenous sociology (Oxford University Press). Tahu serves on a wide range of iwi, research and government advisory groups including the Pūhoro Charitable Trust which governs the Pūhoro STEMM Academy, the Chief Science Advisor forum, and the technical advisory for the Data Iwi Leadership Group, National Iwi Chairs Forum. Tahu has degrees in History, Demography and Sociology from The University of Waikato and Stanford University. She was previously a journalist.

Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter

University of Tasmania

Maggie Walter (PhD; FASSA) is Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) and Distinguished Professor of Sociology (Emerita) at the University of Tasmania. A previous Pro-Vice Chancellor, Aboriginal Leadership (2014-2020), Professor Walter’s research centres on challenging, empirically and theoretically, standard explanations for Indigenous inequality. Maggie is a founding member of the Australian Indigenous Data Sovereignty Collective (Maiam nayri Wingara) and an executive member of the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA).  In May 2021, Maggie was appointed a Commissioner with the Victorian Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, inquiring into systemic injustices experienced by First Peoples since colonisation.

Associate Professor Donna Cormack

University of Otago

Donna Cormack (Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu) is an Associate Professor at Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland. She has a joint position at Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare, University of Otago (Wellington). She has been involved in work on the conceptualisation and classification of ethnicity data in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Her research also focuses on the health impacts of racism and other systems of oppression, Māori data sovereignty, and Kaupapa Māori, critical and anti-colonial approaches to health and health research. She lives in Te Whanganui a Tara.

Sacha McMeeking

University of Canterbury

Keynote Panel Chair Sacha McMeeking is Head of Aotahi School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury. She researches in the areas of Iwi Māori development, innovation and entrepreneurship; Iwi Māori futures, social and cultural capital; comparative approaches to Indigenous peoples; and public policy. Sacha brings a serial entrepreneur’s approach to working with and for Iwi Māori. From instigating United Nations proceedings to architecting a Māori social enterprise fund and leading commercial negotiations, she is known for solution-building that meets Iwi Māori aspirations. In 2010, as New Zealand’s inaugural Fulbright Harkness Fellow for emerging and established leaders, she developed tradition based values commercial decision making tools for Iwi and Māori. She has been General Manager of Strategy and Influence at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, responsible for significant inter-Iwi initiatives, including commercial partnerships as well as landmark policy outcomes that reflect post-Settlement Treaty partnership.