The CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance: overview and Australian activities

Reader advisory: I have retained British spelling as supplied by contributors. Some of the questions posed during the webinar have been edited for clarity.

The CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance focus on appropriate use and reuse of Indigenous data. The principles recenter and reframe discussion and action on the sovereign rights and dignity of Indigenous Peoples, especially against the backdrop of “big data” and broad open access initiatives that are prevalent in today’s libraries and archives.

What is Indigenous data and where might it be found in libraries and special collections? Think about cultural heritage collections, which contain photos, drawings, field notes, even objects. Think about theses and dissertations which contain information that is not appropriate for all to see (or may be inaccurate, or a misrepresentation of a people and their culture). Think about research about climate change, fire management or environmental resilience on Indigenous lands and waters. Think about census records. Think about research data sets produced from Indigenous Peoples or from samples of flora and fauna with which Indigenous Peoples relate. In short, there is already an enormous amount of Indigenous data in our collections and the fact that it has not been properly identified or accorded appropriate treatment is, or should be, of concern.

On February 2, 2021 representatives of the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA) and the Equity for Indigenous Research and Innovation Coordinating Hub (ENRICH) and representatives from National Library of Australia and University of Sydney joined attendees from Australian and New Zealand institutions for a discussion session hosted by National and State Libraries Australia (NSLA) and the OCLC Research Library Partnership. The panelists shared updates and examples of their work, as well as lessons they’ve learned. Many thanks to those who offered wisdom and expertise. This is a summary of what was shared in the session.

Attendees were asked to watch a previously recorded OCLC RLP webinar, Operationalizing the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance. Additionally, GIDA and ENRICH offered a brief overview and update of the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance, with examples of work done at the Library of Congress in the US, Simon Fraser University in Canada and the University of Tasmania.

GIDA and ENRICH representatives included:

  • Stephanie R. Carroll, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of the Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona
  • Maui Hudson, Director, Te Kotahi Research Institute, University of Waikato
  • Maggie Walter, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of Tasmania
  • Jane Anderson, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology and Museum Studies, New York University

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ENRICH have made great strides in launching the ENRICH Cultural Institutions Network, an important space for thinking and experimentation. As of early February, there were over 56 cultural institutions across seven countries that had joined the network. The goal of the Network is to share work implementing practical mechanisms like the TK and BC Labels & Notices and the CARE Principles as well as creating an engaged learning space for institutional staff interested in thinking through next steps , implementation pathways and developing new workflows.  In addition, GIDA, ENRICH, and others are developing training modules around Indigenous Data Sovereignty, Indigenous collections and intellectual property, decision-making and governance. ENRICH trainings will be delivered though a distinct Educational and Training Platform under development. This Platform will also make available template data sovereignty agreements, contracts, and clauses.

An important component of moving to appropriate practice within an institutional context, is the incorporation of the CARE Principles into policy. A great example is the AIATSIS Code of Ethics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research – these embed the CARE Principles into a code of practice for ethical Australian Indigenous research.

GIDA and ENRICH representatives also answered several questions posed by attendees.

What are best practices for implementing the TK (Traditional Knowledge) and BC (Biocultural) Labels and Notices?

The ENRICH Cultural Institutions Network is sharing best practices and Local Contexts is developing workflows and training material to support best practice in application and implementation of the Notices and the Labels too

Do you see potential for the Labels to be adapted to support acknowledgement and awareness of other communities represented in data–such as data that can be disaggregated based on gender, disability, ethnicity, religion, etc.?

The Labels are oriented towards Indigenous communities who as collectives have clearer lines of accountability and responsibility between members and the governance entities. While the CARE Principles and Labels might be thought of in the context of other collectives it isn’t clear whether they could be translated to these other contexts without limiting their effectiveness for Indigenous communities.

How can we approach appropriate implementation if we lack clear cultural authorities to work with? We have Land Councils and networks of Elders but there is rarely community consensus on who holds local and cultural authority here in Australia.
The work of customizing the TK and BC Labels at a community level can take time.  This is partly because conversations internal governance and decision-making are necessary. Community consensus and decision-making are complex across every context. As we have found through the development of the TK Labels with Indigenous communities is that the Labels activate conversations that are timely and necessary within Indigenous contexts. Communities want to be recognized as the authorities over their cultural heritage and data. We encourage cultural institutions to start where they can – identifying collections, connecting them to communities. This is why we developed the Notices as a distinct tool for institutions and researchers. Notices can be added before community developed and customized TK Labels–so institutions can act and wait for those decisions and governance-structures to develop themselves as appropriate.

Our Library does not have Indigenous staff or representation in the Library workforce that would be implementing the CARE Principles. As a University we do have an Indigenous student support centre and we have a number of Indigenous academic staff. Who should we be looking to for guidance to make sure we implement any initiatives appropriately?

From an Australian point of view there are rarely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff available to provide this sort of expertise. One of the principles of Indigenous data governance is Indigenous leadership and decision making. If you don’t have staff, you need to think about a mechanism so that you can have that leadership and decision making. The risk on the other side is that you have academics or staff at your institution, and they become overburdened. The expectations for those individuals is high, and they already have full time jobs. Speaking with Indigenous people in senior roles at your institution is probably the best place to start and then developing clear employment strategies so there are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

On a world scale, do Labels work when each cultural group might have a different understanding of the visuals conveyed by the icons?

We developed the icons over 10 years with Indigenous communities across four countries. The icons remain the same so that the Labels can be an internationally recognized system. But each community retains the sovereign right to define the protocols and use their language to make the Label unique and contextual. Here is an example of this specificity with the Sq’ewlets Virtual Museum. The system pivots on both the local and universal to be effective. From the beginning of this initiative there was a need to create icons that were relatively neutral but communicated a clear message about cultural protocols. The need to develop icons that could work across different institutions and jurisdictions was also really important. Communities have to work with multiple organisations and institutions and organisations have to work with multiple communities. The icons are visual markers for the existence of Indigneous rights and interests in collections and data and therefore need to remain the same but each community can customise the metadata associated with their own Labels, so a Whakatōhea Attribution Label is different from a Tainui Attribution Label for example.

Do you have any comments on any systems and information architecture features that we should be aware of when working with vendors and documenting requirements that enable systems to be compliant with these CARE Principles?

This is something that will need to emerge as the CARE implementation criteria are developed. It’s an important issue to think about in the context of Indigenous and mainstream procurement needs for digital products and services. Space for metadata, including provenance, permissions, and protocols, potentially in combination with the TK and BC Labels creates a place for Indigenous governance and control that can become a permanent component throughout the data lifecycle.

Would reference to the CARE Principles in policies and procedures have more weight than a more local reference (such as “Māori Data Sovereignty Principles”)?

CARE Principles are high level. Māori Data Sovereignty Principles are thus more specific to Aotearoa, akin to OCAP (First Nations principles of ownership, control, access, and possession) in Canada. First Nation/tribal/iwi are the rightsholders and grounded base for each Indigenous Nation’s principles or expressions of governance and self-determination in relation to their data.

Any update on adding Labels into ORCID and publications?

We are working very closely with ORCiD on this and we are anticipating this functionality within the first half of 2021. We are also moving this along with a variety of publishers. The digital publishing platform RavenSpace at the University of British Columbia Press, which is built using Scalar, has embedded the Labels within its structure. The inaugural book, ‘As I Remember it’ using this platform integrates the Labels – see here.

To provide additional context about how institutions in Australia are working with issues around Indigenous data, two institutions presented how they are grappling with Indigenous data in library collections.

Rebecca Bateman (Assistant Director, Indigenous Engagement), Kevin Bradley (Assistant Director General, Collections), and Marcus Hughes (Director, Indigenous Engagement) gave a tour of activities at the National Library of Australia (NLA).

The National Library of Australia has been working on strategic, staged processes and adjusting ways of thinking – such as the inclusion of First Nations’ languages – that can be seen as steps towards embedding Indigenous cultural perspectives  rather than a string of “decolonization projects.”

After a decade of working in partnership with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the Australian National Library was successful in having AUSTLANG codes added to the MARC format.* From an Indigenous perspective, the AUSTLANG codes provide a tool for identification of Country and culture through language groups, so they provide more than an association with a geographic location or place name. Adding these codes to metadata records about materials means that it is much easier to discover material related to Indigenous history, languages, and cultures. Each AUSTLANG language has an alphanumeric code and connects to additional data, such as alternative terms, spellings, number of speakers, how the language has been documented, etc. [Example: Keerray Woorroong

To help celebrate the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019, NLA, AIATSIS, and NSLA partner institutions and an enthusiastic volunteer community joined forces in a national code-a-thon to identify Trove** items in Indigenous Australian languages and add AUSTLANG codes.

This event was wildly successful with 8,000 codes added, enabling search and (importantly) access to materials. The code-a-thon was a significant effort, in terms of the CARE Principles, in that tying cultural items to the appropriate language code helps to establish provenance for these items. The AUSTLANG data set and access to the API are now available via The dataset includes the language names, each with a unique alphanumeric code that functions as a stable identifier, alternative/variant names and spellings, and the approximate location of each language variety.

The language codes are being harnessed in other ways as well. Over the last 18 months the Trove team has made efforts to enhance the discovery capacities for Indigenous collections, materials marked with the AUSTLANG codes and/or with AIATSIS subject headings that are signaled in Trove as “First Australians” (the terminology used for content and features relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples). Rebecca demonstrated this by showing an example of the work Culture in Translation which has the “First Australians” designator. Additionally, most works in Trove have a mechanism for reporting culturally sensitive content. Visual material that may be sensitive or inappropriate for viewing (again, driven by subject headings) are presented with blurred thumbnail images which the Trove user must agree to have unblurred.

Other related efforts include the development and implementation of guidelines for describing published materials. That work has been completed, and NLA has now turned attention to unpublished materials. The NLA Indigenous Engagement team is better positioned to collaborate with communities and individuals, and to use this initial work as a basis for Indigenous data sovereignty regarding how materials are found and described. Speakers described the TK and BC Labels as powerful tools to promote that sovereignty.

As revealed in the audience Q&A, there was considerable interest from the audience around the underpinnings of the AUSTLANG codes, the mechanisms for reporting culturally sensitive content, and the AUSTLANG codes.

What happens when a report on Indigenous cultural sensitivity is submitted via Trove?  What is the turn around on those reports? How is the feedback passed on to contributing libraries?

All queries sent via the Indigenous cultural sensitivity form on Trove are sent to the NLA Indigenous Engagement Team. Trove staff also see these queries as they come in, however it is Indigenous Engagement staff who review and take action.

Turn around really depends on the nature of the query.  Most are answered within a few days, however complex issues will take longer to resolve. We aim to make contact with the person who has sent the form as soon as we are able to.

At this stage necessary changes are made to records in Trove only. We would like to work more closely with partner organisations on the resolution of these issues and are currently considering what that might look like.

Is there a way to “roll back” or “roll into” these Trove features into individual library catalogues?

From a technical perspective this is a question for Trove. The best way to ensure these features apply to the records your organisation provides to Trove is by making sure those records contain metadata that will be picked up by the criteria. NLA Indigenous Engagement and Trove staff are currently working on a suite of resources, including a webinar, to provide partner organisations with guidance around this.

AIATSIS identified 465 languages in Australia Austlang, what is occurring to get these records included into mainstream Library catalogues?

The work done in 2019, via the Austlang code-a-thon and related activities, was the first step in promoting the use of Austlang codes in mainstream Library catalogues. There are plans for a second code-a-thon and other activities to further this work.

Finally, Jennifer Stanton (Manager Digital Collections) from University of Sydney gave an overview of activities that have happened over the last five years. The library has been grounded in embedding culturally safe practices into their activities, mindful of Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property as well as encouraging ethical use of First Nations cultural knowledge and culturally appropriate research practices.

Jennifer reflected on their previous practices, “where in-house decisions … came out of ad-hoc approaches.” Looking at theses as a specific example, there is generally no reliable way to tell is there is Indigenous data or culturally sensitive information in those materials; staff are left to scour tables of contents, keywords and occasional notes. This lack of provenance is what Jennifer identified as one of the biggest barriers.

In previous practice, they might go ahead and digitize the materials OR contact the Department of Anthropology, but would not seek advice outside the university. Decisions and actions were often not recorded.

This began to change after cultural competence training was implemented at a University level, giving library staff more confidence in engaging in discussions around Indigenous data governance. Discussions led to questioning previous practices. Jennifer shared that in her own experience, training led to more open discussions becoming the norm. Now when staff encounter Indigenous data or culturally sensitive materials, they can have an open conversation about how to move forward.

Very recently Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Protocols were created by the Library’s Wingara Mura group which was led by Nathan Sentance, a Wiradjuri man who worked with the Library as a Wingara Mura Advisor. These protocols, which are now available, are intended as a set of principles and guidelines to enhance and embed culturally competent practice within an Australian academic library context. They focus on things like identifying potentially sensitive first nations cultural materials, dealing with take down requests relating to culturally sensitive materials and how we should approach involving communities in the decision-making process. They have been endorsed by the University Executive Indigenous Strategy and Services Committee, and the library will soon begin implementation of these protocols into systems, procedures and culture.

The library has already taken a number of smaller actions in moving towards culturally safe collections and practices, including:

  • A cultural care warning, now on the digital collections website and soon across all library websites, so that visitors are aware that they may encounter culturally sensitive materials
  • Cultural care warnings on relevant individual digitised items, mainly theses
  • Documenting items that may contain culturally sensitive information so they can be reviewed once a formalized decision-making process is in place
  • Adding Auslang codes to metadata when an item includes a particular first nations language or research about that language.
  • Enabling submitters to the institutional repository to select a first nations language as the language of the item.

Jennifer highlighted that there is no blanket solution when it comes to working with communities in the Australian landscape and it will take time build relationships and find appropriate solutions. Ideally, organizations will develop a central communications office who can provide expertise and support dialog and relationship building.

An additional complication is harvested content, which appears (from an end user perspective) as being in the library’s collection. Addressing the type of metadata that turns up in a federated search is a difficult challenge and one that requires an ecosystem of content and record creators who are all working towards the same goals. The library can, however, be more discerning about the content that is being harvested and prioritize content coming from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organizations like AIATISIS.

The overall goal of the library is the be inclusive, to go beyond the colonial perspective, for staff to feel informed and supported in their knowledge about Indigenous data governance, and for the library to work with communities outside the walls of the institution.

This was a well-attended webinar with terrific audience engagement, and I encourage you to view it in its entirety!

For more guidance on working with Indigenous collections in Australia, see NSLA’s online resources based on the ATSILIRN Protocols.

*In Australia there are more than 250 Indigenous languages including 800 dialects. Each language is specific to a particular place and people. 

**Trove is a discovery portal representing a collaboration between the National Library of Australia and hundreds of Partner organisations around Australia.

Many thanks to the presenters for taking the additional time to review and edit this blog post and to Barbara Lemon (NSLA) and Mercy Procaccini (OCLC RLP) who also reviewed and supplied helpful suggestions.