Why are we measuring assimilation? ⚖️

Data Values Digest #5 by Jenna Slotin

Dear partners,

This week we marked the 27th annual International Day of the World’s Indigenous People by publishing a Fireside Chat between First Nations data governance champion Gwen Phillips and Tom Orrell of DataReady. Tom co-leads the Data Values Project’s working group on well-governed data, and Gwen is part of the British Columbia (Canada) First Nations Data Governance Initiative.

As a member of the Ktunaxa Nation, Gwen makes a powerful case that data sovereignty is key to self-determination for indigenous nations and dispossessed, stateless and historically-marginalized communities. Self-determination is the power to decide who you are, who you were, and who you want to be, Gwen explains: 

“What the [Canadian] federal government is working on is to close the gap between how well we are and [other] Canadians. For us, that's measuring assimilation. Why would we do that? [...] And so we will no longer allow the federal government to report on how sick and ugly and dysfunctional indigenous people are—because we're not! Sure, we're suffering. But that's the only data that they collect. They don't collect data that shows the strengths we have. They don't collect data that actually acknowledges even the assets we have in our communities. So for us, it's really about knowing who we are [and] knowing how well our people are. […] Because as long as others are controlling the agenda, controlling the data and controlling the investments, we're always going to be subject to being beggars in our homeland.

In asserting data sovereignty, the Ktunaxa Nation is developing its own definition of wellbeing along with indicators that reflect Ktunaxa values. “What you measure is what matters,” Gwen says, “and if it's not what matters, then why measure it?”

What comes out so strongly in Gwen and Tom’s conversation is how data can be both a means of oppression and liberation. In the development sector, we tend to downplay the role of governments in weaponizing data against people for suppression, assimilation and control when, for decades, indigenous communities and nations have asserted their right to own and govern their data as an act of self-determination. 

Inspired by their conversation, we’ve pulled together a list of resources from organizations working on indigenous data governance around the world. Check out the list at the bottom of this message and also listen to short audio clips of Gwen and Tom’s chat on Twitter. Tag us using #DataValues on social media to let us know what you think and, as always, I encourage you to respond to this email with feedback, comments or questions. 

Until next time, 


Jenna Slotin

Senior Director of Policy, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

www.data4sdgs.org | @Data4SDGs | @jslotin

Better data. Better decisions. Better lives.

Indigenous Data Governance Resources from Around the World:

Global resources: 


Asia and the Pacific: 

Latin America and the Carribean:

North America: