Reclaiming First Nations data and sovereignty

Reclaiming First Nations data and sovereignty

When Shani Crumpen moved from her home in Kinglake West thirteen years ago to study at La Trobe’s Shepparton Campus, little did she know that her strong drive to further her education and be a role model to her son would lead to first class honours (H1) for her BA Sociology thesis — a project focusing on the growing area of Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Governance.

Restoring rights to digital cultural heritage

As the global ‘data revolution’ accelerates, the data rights and interests of First Nations people to their cultural and proprietary information is becoming increasingly important.

Indigenous Data Governance (ID-Gov) refers to the right of Indigenous peoples to autonomously decide what, how and why Indigenous Data are collected, accessed and used. Indigenous Data Sovereignty (ID-Sov) refers to the right of Indigenous people to exercise ownership over Indigenous Data from and about their communities and lands, as well individual and collective access and privacy.

Both ID-Gov and ID-Sov work to ensure that data about Indigenous peoples reflects their priorities, values, cultures, worldviews and diversity —  and that their stories are accurately expressed. Application of these principles can help empower First Nations peoples to make the best decisions to support their communities, and pursue self-determination. Shani focused her attention on a case study of the Koori Resource and Information Centre Archives.

Inspired by family and community

When Shani’s son began primary school, she decided it was time to return to university and expand her interests in history and data science.

‘It was important to me to further my education so I could be a role model for him,’ says Shani.

‘I developed an interest in archives and data management through my History subjects, particularly Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Indigenous Data Governance — which has recently emerged in response to poor data practices. My sister gave me the idea of using the Koori Resource and Information (KRIC) Archives as a case study.

I had worked on the KRIC Archiving Project when I first moved to Shepparton and learnt a lot about the local Indigenous community’s history as well as my own [Torres Strait Islander] cultural identity during this time. My thesis gave me the opportunity to explore and highlight its significance further. In particular, the ways in which the KRIC Archives are a realisation of Indigenous Data Governance.’

A project of ‘local and international significance’

Greater Shepparton is one of the most culturally diverse areas in Victoria, a point of difference that many in the community — and certainly the La Trobe community — are proud of.

It’s estimated that Greater Shepparton’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population alone is nearly three times that of the 1.6% who self-identified on the 2016 Census, with a population of closer to 6,000.

As such, the value of this project cannot be understated both in terms of illuminating and making available the histories of the region’s First Peoples for current and future generations to explore, but also in terms of improving the systems around data collection and management, as Shani herself reflects.

‘I hope that my research can help raise awareness of the Archives’ existence and value to both the Indigenous community and wider society so that archival sorting and indexing can be reinstated. This is important so that the knowledge embodied in the KRIC Archives can continue to be passed from one generation to the next.’

‘This is clearly of local and national significance,’ said her supervisor, Dr Lucinda Aberdeen.

‘It contributes to debates and initiatives led by First Nations people globally to develop and sustain data collection practices and archiving protocols that privilege Indigenous knowledge and culture… it also provides a means to advocate for the collection and ongoing preservation of First Nations community Archives in a culturally appropriate and empowering manner.’

Shani and her supervison Dr Aberdeen.

Benefits of studying closer to home

‘It’s critically important for students to feel socially connected to their campus to enjoy their studies and achieve well academically,’ says Dr Aberdeen. But juggling remote schooling and parenting duties alongside academic commitments – during a pandemic, no less – presented unique challenges.

‘Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to do everything, but I think one of the great things about Uni is that you get to meet so many different and amazing people along the way who enrich the experience that much more.’

‘I chose to study at La Trobe Shepparton because it was a smaller campus that was closer to home, which meant I didn’t have to travel for study. It meant I had more time with family and friends,’ says Shani.

It’s a great environment to study in.’

Despite having COVID-restricted access to local campus facilities, the intermittent demands of home schooling and only being able to meet with her supervisor via Zoom, Shani pursued her full-time Honours studies ‘relentlessly and without complaint,’ remarked Dr Aberdeen.

‘Shani was always calm, focused and open to deepening her knowledge and understanding by exploring her thesis topic from different lines of inquiry, like a model Honours student.’

A bright future in research

First class honours came as a welcome surprise. ‘I felt equally shocked and ecstatic,’ Shani says. ‘I was grateful that all the hard work had paid off and, more so, for all the support I received throughout my Honours, without which I would not have achieved this.’

‘Moving forward, I hope to gain more work experience in research that I can use towards a PhD.’

La Trobe has a range of scholarships and support networks for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students keen to explore the possibilities of university. Chat to a course advisor today.