The focus of the last two decades (1994–2015) on the world’s Indigenous peoples has highlighted a number of critical issues that are central to Indigenous empowerment and resurgence in the quest for decolonization. The key issues include Indigenous peoples’ full and effective participation in decision making in matters that affect them, the pursuit of culturally sensitive development policies, or what is now termed self-determined development, and effective monitoring or stocktaking mechanisms and processes, not only for planning but also for measuring progress. A combination of factors, including access to information and communications technology (ICT) amid current Indigenous resurgence and rapidly intensifying Indigenous interest in data sovereignty, places Indigenous peoples in a strong position to further their ongoing investment not only in self-repositioning but also for practical realization of their rights to self-determination.
This paper focuses on the historical contexts, including the triggers and the processes, behind the growing relevance of Indigenous data sovereignty as a critical tool to advance the Indigenous vision of self-determined development as part of the logic of broader self-determination. The paper provides practical contexts for the application and realization of data sovereignty and conjectures on its potential to further the autonomous ability of Indigenous peoples to set their own research agenda, frame or design their own research questions, select their own research and development partners, and so forth. Indigenous data sovereignty includes the capability of Indigenous peoples to analyze and interpret research results and negotiate their application as a consequential and transformative exercise of self-determined development. The paper acknowledges that, as a theory and practice, Indigenous data sovereignty is a work in progress and draws attention to the tensions that assail the concept while not discounting its potential for optimum realization and overall benefits.