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DSSN Symposium: “Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Digital Archives” In-Person / Online

In recent decades, digital technologies for information dissemination have vastly altered the ways in which materials can be accessed by diverse users. For resources with archival value, in particular, their digital surrogates can now be made available globally via the Web at low cost, thus removing barriers to accessibility that previously existed when their only versions were located in a physical archive. At the same time, it is important to recognize that dominant models of digital accessibility are, both implicitly and explicitly, based around a specific, culturally contingent set of values around the control of data that are largely informed by Western notions of intellectual property. These foreground ownership of data by individual creators and the economic value associated with being able to make copies of the data. They also operate on the assumption that universal access to data is generally desirable, at least for those with the ability to pay for it.

However, such assumptions do not apply in many contexts, especially in Indigenous ones where communal notions of ownership of intellectual property will often take precedence over individual rights and where access to information may be regulated by cultural conventions that fall outside the protections associated with Western intellectual property laws, in particular those associated with copyright. For instance, traditional ecological knowledge is not afforded legal protections in the United States, even though it may be of high cultural (and, potentially, commercial) value. The traditional dissemination of such knowledge within Indigenous communities may also be highly regulated and passed down through specific community members only. These kinds of issues raise both legal concerns (broadly construed) and technical ones. If US law, for instance, does not enshrine protections for traditional knowledge, how can the prerogatives of Indigenous communities be fully supported when information about their traditional practices is collected and disseminated? Similarly, in an era where information is increasingly stored in digital formats on the Web, how can systems of access be developed that are in line with Indigenous principles of the dissemination of knowledge?

The goal of this symposium is to address these concerns by bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars with an interest in social and technical systems for managing access to, and disseminating, digital materials documenting Indigenous cultural and linguistic practices in the local region and beyond. A key concern of the symposium will be how to ensure that Indigenous communities are able to maintain sovereignty over such materials given past historical practices that removed them from community control and the known conflicts between Western notions of intellectual property and diverse Indigenous traditions. An additional topic will be the special concerns that arise when handling materials collected about Indigenous communities but which are not controlled by the community and which may not even be accessible to them.

This symposium is expected to be of interest to scholars with an interest in Indigenous Studies, Law, Information Science, Anthropology, and Linguistics, as well as other scholars with a stake in exploring the long-ranging historical impacts of colonialism, as is typical of much research in the humanities. It will also be of value for stakeholders in the maintenance of the intellectual traditions of Indigenous communities, including members of the university community, such as Librarians, who may be called upon to develop protocols and platforms that facilitate the safekeeping of Indigenous data in ways that are in line with traditional practices and which allow Indigenous communities to maintain sovereignty over materials documenting their cultural, intellectual, and linguistic traditions.

This will be a hybrid event. The in-person venue will be The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, 509 O'Brian Hall, North Campus.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022
1:00pm - 4:00pm
Time Zone:
Eastern Time - US & Canada (change)
North Campus
  Digital Scholarship  
Registration has closed.

Event Organizer

Profile photo of Natalia Estrada
Natalia Estrada


Digital Scholarship Librarian

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