First Nations Sovereignty: Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Living Archives of People and Place

Supported by a Whyte Fund Grant 2022-2023, this Indigenous-led project is a partnership between the Indigenous Archives Collective and Monash University.

It is a response to the Indigenous Data Sovereignty movement linked to First Nations Sovereignty.

Project goals

The Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Living Archives project:

  • explores the interrelationship between First Nations sovereignty and data sovereignty
  • collaborates with Indigenous partners to research and co-design data, information and recordkeeping governance structures, rights charters, policy frameworks, protocols and models for transformative participatory practice.

Indigenous data sovereignty is central to First Nations sovereignty

Part of a wider global initiative, the First Nations sovereignty and self-determination movement in Australia is associated with a claim for Indigenous data sovereignty.

In 2017, the ULURU Statement from the Heart to the people of Australia called for a First Nations Voice in the Constitution, a Makarrata Commission to supervise treaty-making processes and truth-telling about First Nations history.

First Nations peoples around the world are claiming data sovereignty and taking a lead in defining data extensively. They emphasise how data has been weaponised against them in colonial-settler societies:

‘In the digital age, governments are increasingly dependent on data and analytics to inform their policies and decision-making. However, Indigenous peoples have often been the unwilling targets of policy interventions with little say over the collection, use and application of data about them, their lands and cultures.’

In Australia, records held in government, non-Indigenous organisations and institutional archives are repositories of data (broadly defined) created by, and about, First Nations people from the time of invasion.

Conventional, western colonial data, information and recordkeeping practices dispossessed Indigenous people of their cultural material and knowledge, and have been instruments of colonialism. Data has been used against indigenous peoples since colonisation and this continues today – only accelerated by technology.

The Communique on Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS)

The IDS Maiam nayri Wingara 2018 addresses all individuals and entities involved in the creation, collection, access, analysis, interpretation, management, dissemination and reuse of data and data infrastructure in Australia. It refers broadly to data, records, information or knowledge, in any format or medium, which is about and may affect Indigenous peoples collectively and individually. It also asserts the right of First Nations peoples to exercise ownership, autonomy and governance over their data.

Similar protocols have been adopted in other countries with national IDS networks established in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States, with growing interest in the Pacific, Scandinavia and Mexico.

Together, the Indigenous scholars, practitioners and activists involved with these networks have advanced the increasing recognition of IDS as an expression and enabler of Indigenous rights, wellbeing and self-determination.

IDS offers an alternative and potentially transformative vision of ‘good data’ practices with benefits extending far beyond Indigenous communities.

Related projects

This project will drive further development and implementation of the Charter of Rights in Childhood Recordkeeping in Indigenous Child Care Agencies – led by Indigenous peoples. It will also result in:

Indigenous data sovereignty to support First Nations sovereignty

  • Explore the interrelationship between First Nations sovereignty and data sovereignty, and create synthesised and unifying approaches to data, information, records and archives.
  • Develop foundational understandings of Indigenous data sovereignty.
  • Working with Indigenous partners, research and co-design data, information and recordkeeping governance structures, rights charters, policy frameworks, protocols and models for transformative participatory practice in government and non-Indigenous organisations.

Living Archives of People and Place

The project proposes a radical and new technology-enabled form of community-centred, participatory archive.

Either virtually or through repatriation, it will embed or re-embed dispersed data, information, records and archives in Country – reconnecting them with the tangible and intangible records of place and people that continue to exist there.

Not only will it conceptualise a Living Archive of People and Place, but also develop the functional requirements for an online Registry of Living Archives of People and Place to identify, contextualise and connect all types of records and archives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, communities and individuals. These include those created on, or embedded in, Country and people, with records and archives held by government agencies and non-Indigenous organisations developed by, or about, First Nations people.

Additionally, this initiative will undertake innovative ‘proof of concept’ prototyping of a Registry of Living Archives of People and Place, testing the capacity of existing software to provide registry functionality and support a network of Living Archives of People and Place.

Chief Investigators

Dr Kirsten Thorpe
Jumbunna Centre UTS

Dr Kirsten Thorpe (Worimi, Port Stephens) is a Senior Researcher at Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education & Research, University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Kirsten leads the Indigenous Archives and Data Stewardship Hub, and has broad interests in research and engagement with Indigenous protocols and decolonising practices in the library and archive fields, and the broader GLAM sector, including the 'right of reply' to records and capacity building and support for the development of Living Indigenous Archives on Country. Kirsten has extensive experience working in major collecting institutions across public libraries and archives. She is an invited member of the International Council on Archives Expert Group on Indigenous Matters and a co-founder of the Indigenous Archives Collective.

Dr Shannon Faulkhead
First Nations Collection, Melbourne Museum

Dr Shannon Faulkhead is a Koorie woman from Mildura who is currently Head of the First Peoples Department at Museums Victoria.

Completing her PhD in 2009, Dr Faulkhead’s unique research contribution relates to the positioning of Indigenous Australian peoples and their knowledge within Australian society and collective knowledge. This research embraces the differences between Indigenous and mainstream Australia as positive, and works towards methods of celebrating these within mainstream research methodologies and collective knowledge.

Prior to returning to study, Dr Faulkhead spent nine years working at the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc., an Aboriginal cultural centre in Victoria.

Narissa Timbery
Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University

A First Nations woman descended from the Yuin Nation (NSW South Coast), Narissa has been an ABI indexer at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies, and worked at the National Archives of Australia. She has a background in education, including teaching an Aboriginal and Education elective to Diploma of Education students at the University of Wollongong for five years.

Narissa completed a Master of Information Management and Systems at Monash before enrolling in a PhD. In tandem with the Assistant Lecturer position, her doctoral studies, Beyond the animations: A sustainable living digital heritage archive, explores the creation of a sustainable living digital heritage archive. Using the Monash Country Lines Archives’ virtual 3D models as a case study, anticipated research outcomes include a deeper understanding of how to respectfully represent Aboriginal knowledge, cultural protocols and community archiving requirements when creating a sustainable living digital heritage archive. A suite of protocols and guidelines including documentation protocols is in development. Narissa’s research provides an exemplar for the use of yarning as a method of data collection and data analysis in information systems research.

Associate Professor Gillian Oliver
Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University

As the lead of our Digital Equity group within humancentred computing, Assoc Prof Oliver’s research focuses on the information cultures of workplaces and issues relating to the continuity of digital information.

Assoc Prof Oliver is the Co-editor in Chief of Archival Science. She also co-authored Records Management and Information Culture: Tackling the People Problem (Facet, 2014) – and the second edition of Digital Curation (Facet, 2017).

Before joining Monash, Assoc Prof Oliver led teaching and research into archives and records at Victoria University of Wellington and The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

Emeritus Professor Sue McKemmish
Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University

Globally-renowned, Emerita Professor McKemmish is a celebrated academic, strong social good advocate, leader in Records Continuum theorising and a force in recordkeeping and information management.

She has been Chair of Archival Systems, Associate Dean (Research) and Champion for Indigenous Advancement in the Faculty of IT Monash, as well as Director of the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics, and Records Continuum Research Group.

Her research has recently focused on community-centred, participatory recordkeeping and archiving relating to rights in records, complemented by ethics of care, in response to advocacy by those with lived experience of out-of-home care and First Nations peoples. Developing inclusive, reflexive design and practice in partnership with communities has been critical to this research.

Research Fellows

Barbara Reed
Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University

Barbara is a Research Fellow in the Rights in Records projects. As an independent archives and records consultant, she has collaborated with a range of government, non-government, private and non-profit organisations in Australia and internationally.

In her career, Barbara has worked on issues empowering access to records for the Care Leaver Community and the Stolen Generation. Much of her consulting work has been focused on developing recordkeeping practices and competencies, transforming recordkeeping into digital practice and working with a range of stakeholders to create strategic interventions through standards and best practice guidelines.

Research Mentors

Dr Greg Rolan
Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University

Dr Rolan is currently a postdoc Research Fellow in the Artificial Intelligence for Law Enforcement and Community Safety Lab.

He previously worked on the Rights in Records by Design project at the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics, having achieved a PhD in recordkeeping informatics.

Prior to returning to study, Greg enjoyed a 30-year career in IT spanning corporate work, consulting, freelance work and several start-ups including his own.

Dr Alex Byrne

Dr Alex Byrne FALIA was appointed New South Wales State Librarian & Chief Executive in September 2011 until his retirement in September 2016, following positions in library and university management across Australia, most recently as University Librarian and Pro Vice Chancellor Teaching & Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney. Alex served for a decade in leadership positions with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions including President from 2005 to 2007. Over the last two years he chaired National and State Libraries Australasia, the vibrant partnership of the national, state and territory libraries of Australia and New Zealand.

As a professional librarian, researcher and writer, Alex has a deep interest in the roles of memory institutions, the complexity of issues relating to Indigenous peoples and transmission of knowledge, and the opportunities and challenges of the digital age. He was honoured with the HCL Anderson Award in 2015.


Monica Galassi
Researcher, Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education & Research

Monica Galassi is a Researcher at Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education & Research and PhD student at the School of International Studies and Education, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FAAS), University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. Monica’s research interest focuses on rights to access and management of cultural heritage as a key driver for social justice, and she is passionate about finding ways to foster culturally safe and community-driven initiatives across the cultural sector through research-led practice.

Over the last decade, Monica has been working on several projects and across different organisations in Australia and internationally to support Aboriginal self-determination and sovereignty in collecting institutions. In 2020, she was awarded a Research Excellence Scholarship to undertake a PhD in the field of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archival records which are held in Italian cultural organisations.

Lauren Booker

Lauren Booker (Garigal) has worked across the museums and archives sector on language and cultural revitalisation projects supporting Aboriginal communities to access their cultural and intellectual property held in collecting institutions. This includes working in consultation with the public library network in regards to
language documentation identification and use in language revitalisation.

Lauren’s works also focuses on facilitating the digitisation of recorded and documented cultural materials and the organisation of digital community archives. She is a strong supporter of post-custodial archives, repatriation, Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property rights and Indigenous Data Sovereignty. Lauren is also a member of the Indigenous Archives Collective.

Golding, F., Lewis, McKemmish, S., Rolan, G. and Thorpe, K. (2021) ‘Rights in Records: A Charter of Lifelong Rights in Childhood Recordkeeping in Out-of-Home Care for Australian and Indigenous Australian Children and Care Leavers’, International Journal of Human Rights

Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University and Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research (July 2022), Joint Submission to the Review of the Queensland Public Records Act 2002 (PDF, 0.5 MB)