First Nations data sovereignty and the OCAP® Principles


(Michael Lenczner) #1

As we have previously discussed in the case of administrative data, not all data should be released as open data. Data, of course, exists in a social context, and in many cases it is unethical and unsafe for data to be shared publicly. When we talk about data ethics, it is also critical to raise questions around power and agency—and how data collection and publication practices fit into historical systems of inequity, oppression, and exploitation. As Lorraine mentioned in her discussion of Ontario’s new anti-racism data standards, data collection and publication practices around Indigenous and racialized communities has historically often been used to reinforce negative stereotypes, as a method of racial profiling, and/or information extraction.

Who gets to decide what information on communities is collected, and by whom? Are communities able to access data that is collected about them? Who does this information belong to, and what is it used for? How might specific data practices impact or harm communities at the margins? These questions around data, power, and agency are all linked to the idea of data governance.

Conversations around how data are governed have already been happening in First Nations communities for quite some time. In 1998, a set of standardized principles were established to ensure that the collection, sharing, ownership, and use of data and information from First Nations communities are governed and controlled by First Nations communities themselves. These standards are called the OCAP® Principles, and compliance is expected for research conducted with, or data collected on, First Nations in Canada.

OCAP® specifically stands for:

  • Ownership: This principle acknowledges that information about First Nations communities and groups belongs to those communities—we can think of this as being comparable to the way individuals should own their personal information
  • Control: First Nations communities and groups have the right to control research and information management practices that impact them
  • Access: Data and information collected about First Nations must be accessible to First Nations. Communities also have the right to manage access to these data.
  • Possession: First Nations communities and groups have the right to physical control and stewardship over their data

The OCAP® principles were developed in 1998 by the National Steering Committee (NSC) of the First Nations and Inuit Regional Longitudinal Health Survey—which has now evolved into the First Nations Information Governance Center (FNIGC). Here’s a video from the FNIGC explaining the OCAP® principles. The FNIGC also offers an introductory online course on the Fundamentals of OCAP®.

The OCAP® principles are intended to apply specifically to First Nations—but they can inform a conversation on Indigenous data governance and sovereignty more broadly. Last year, Open North and the British Columbia First Nations’ Data Governance Initiative (BCFNDGI) also released a collaborative paper on First Nations data sovereignty called Decolonizing Data.

Do you know of additional resources and projects on Indigenous data sovereignty? Or are there additional important questions to consider in our own data-related work? We’d love to hear your thoughts—please share them below!