The Indigenous Navigator is an amazing initiative, a consortium of support organisations, indigenous peoples organisations, and institutional members. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Tebtebba Foundation, Forest Peoples Pact, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the International Labour Organisation. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to work with Indigenous communities in different countries and contexts, and to learn from their experiences and perspectives on their rights and development. As I welcome 2020, I reflect on some of the challenges, opportunities, and ethical considerations involved in this work, and share some of the insights and lessons I have gained along the way.
One of the main challenges I have faced has been to better understand how the sensitization and data collection process could be more respectful, participatory, and empowering for the Indigenous communities involved. The Indigenous Navigator is a framework and set of tools for and by Indigenous peoples to systematically monitor the level of recognition and implementation of their rights. It is based on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), core human rights conventions, essential aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the outcomes of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP). The data collected by the Indigenous Navigator can be used to enter into dialogue with duty-bearers and external stakeholders, to advocate for the promotion and protection of Indigenous rights, and to inform development policies and programs that are responsive to Indigenous needs and aspirations. To do so, it holds at its heart a profound respect for the autonomy and self-determination of indigenous peoples and communities – and this extends to the process from planning to implementation of the surveys and ensuring that the data is returned to the community for their own control and ownership.
It has been an amazing year, with tremendous learning. As I have grown, my understanding and appreciation for the intricacies and nuance of collecting data on sensitive and complex issues such as land rights, cultural identity, discrimination, violence, health, education, and governance. Data collection of this kind can pose significant risks and challenges for both the data collectors and the communities they serve.
Over the last months, some of these challenges have included better understanding how the data collection is done with free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the Indigenous communities, and that they have a clear understanding of the purpose, scope, benefits, and risks of the data collection.
FPIC is a specific right recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which aligns with their universal right to self-determination. FPIC allows Indigenous Peoples to provide or withhold/ withdraw consent, at any point, regarding projects impacting their territories. FPIC is also a manifestation of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determine their political, social, economic and cultural priorities. While familiar with individual rights, FPIC is tied to indigenous peoples collective rights. Building my understanding those collective rights has been quite an experience.
Collective rights are rights that belong to a group rather than an individual, and they are often based on the group’s identity, culture, history and relationship with the land. Collective rights are different from individual rights in that they cannot be exercised by one person alone, but by the group as a whole. Collective rights are also intergenerational, meaning that they are inherited from past generations and passed on to future ones. Collective rights are essential for the survival and well-being of indigenous peoples, who have suffered from historical injustices, marginalization and discrimination.
One thing that has helped me to understand collective rights is based on my university classes at Barrett the Honors College, where we studied violations of collective rights – and particularly the concept of genocide, which is defined as the intentional destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such.
It is the classification of being targeted as groups that is core to understanding how genocide differs from individual violations of rights.
Approaching data collection and handling in an appropriate manner
In the work of the Indigenous Navigator, it has been key to reinforce and ensure that the data collection is being done in a culturally appropriate manner, taking into account the diversity, languages, traditions, values, and worldviews of the Indigenous communities. This means translation, not only of language but of concepts and themes from the international human rights framework into the realities, language and culture of the communities.
Working with the partners, we have also been focused on ensuring the data handling and presentation is done in a transparent manner, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of the Indigenous communities or individuals who provide data.
Our partners are expert in ensuring that data collection is done in a collaborative manner, involving the Indigenous communities or organizations in all stages of the data collection process, from design to analysis to dissemination.
As I have learned from our partners, and come to better understand the Indigenous Navigator, I have been privileged to engage with our partners and to adopt a flexible approach, tailored to each specific context adding their data to the global portal. It has been inspiring to engage around their concerns and expectations, respect their decisions and choices, acknowledge their knowledge and expertise, and recognize their agency and autonomy.