Under the umbrella of the Land Dialogues series, the first webinar of this year’s series “Taking Data Back: Women’s Sovereignty Over Land Data” took place on March 30th, 2023. The webinar drew in a little over 220 participants and featured panelists from Indigenous women leaders to programme officers. The series is organized by a consortium of organizations, including the Land Portal Foundation, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Tenure Facility.
The webinar was organized around four main themes:
- Who is collecting land-related data, who has access, who doesn’t and what are the main problems when it comes to this?
- What are the practicalities of Indigenous communities taking back their land-related data? How can this be done?
- What can be done to include Indigenous women in the data cycle in ways that are respectful of and honor their rights?
- What are some of the risks with data collection by Indigenous women?
Thin-Lei Win, journalist, Food Systems and Climate Change, moderated the panel, which featured the following speakers:
- Betty Rubio, Kichwa Leader, Peru
- Denik Puriati, Wisnu Foundation
- Dr. Lydia Jennings, Soil Scientist & American Indian Policy, Wixáritari/ Yoeme
- Rudo Kemper, Cadasta Foundation
Please see a brief recap of each of the four main themes and watch the replay at the bottom for the full captivating conversation.
Who is collecting land-related data, who has access, who doesn’t and what are the main problems when it comes to this?
Denik Puriati, Wisnu Foundation: First and foremost, land for the Balinese is not a single physical dimension, but a socio-cultural dimension is attached to land. Balinese people have a belief that the macrocosm (universe) and microcosm (human self) are the same. Unfortunately, since the Dutch colonization, the spatial structure in Bali has begun to be chaotic because many government interests, including investment, have entered the customary space/region. Meanwhile, Indigenous Peoples who are strong and confident in their communal strength based only on stories passed down from generation to generation, still have inscriptions in the form of metal plates and palm leaves, which have never been recognized by the state. Our participatory mapping activities began with community organizing to unite. The Indigenous villages began to gather some of the young men and women of the village to be trained as volunteers from the village who would map their village, both spatially and socio-culturally. We conducted the mapping method with the village youth by going directly to the field, traveling around the village mapping the village area, identifying the village's potential to collect socio-cultural data of the local village. After all this, spatial and socio-cultural data was collected, data processing and map presentation was done for spatial data. Meanwhile, socio-cultural data was analyzed and made into a document. Now, in the age of advanced technology, young men and women are strengthening the inscriptions of their ancestors by building digital inscriptions.
What are the practicalities of Indigenous communities taking back their land-related data? How can this be done?
Dr. Lydia Jennings, Soil Scientist & American Indian Policy, Wixáritari/ Yoeme: Far too often researchers extract from communities, physically and intellectually, in ways that don’t benefit the needs and priorities of Indigenous communities where the research is being conducted. This research does not center the expertise of the communities, or even credit it! In thinking about who is collecting the data, I think of my own community, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the Yaqui tribe (we exist on both sides of the US-Mexico border). Much of the anthropology scholarship about our community and cultural practices is based on scholarship by white men who came to talk to the men in our community. Traditionally, when outside men came to our villages, only other men talked to them. For a long time, the understanding of cultural expertise was centered on men, though women are also land cultural experts. This didn’t become as clear to the outside world until women anthropologists came to our communities. Additionally, because we exist on both sides of the US-Mexican border, nation-state policies can come into play about data governance and data access. A question therefore emerges: how do we change or work within those barriers to strength the data and knowledge collection of our community? This to me, identifies a clear issue of both who has traditionally collected data, how data collection has been done in a settler colonial capacity, and how these biases can be translated along the entire data lifecycle, including data collection and corresponding technologies being developed.
What can be done to include Indigenous women in the data cycle in ways that are respectful of and honor their rights?
Rudo Kemper, Cadasta Foundation: If we disentangle data from any “modern” constructs and take data to just mean knowledge, then you’ll find that communities have always had their own ‘data cycles’ about their land, for example in the form of oral histories, or through practical experience on planting and harvesting. For at least all of the Indigenous communities that I’ve had the fortune of working with, women have always had a strong role in those ‘data cycles.’ But as the other panelists point out, the problem arises when those Indigenous data cycles are invalidated by outside actors who come with their own worldview and conception of data, such as that of geospatial data as shown on maps. Which is why Indigenous communities have found it to be useful and indeed powerful to collect spatial data using the same tools, to stake out a claim and defend their customary right to their traditional lands. So, in terms of how to include Indigenous women in these land mapping data cycles, I think there are a few things to consider.First, it’s important to design the project in such a way that Indigenous women can be included in the data stewardship process at every step of the way. In my experience, a lot of community mapping projects tend to be inclusive only during the data collection phase. But then once it progresses to an analysis or decision-making phase, there is much less representation, and the perspective of women tends to be muted out by more dominant voices. Another observation is to be careful about what kind of data is understood to matter when it comes to land. Although community members may possess different kinds of knowledge based on their lived experience, when it comes to land data, often enough the knowledge of men ends up being privileged. Yet women may have a different but complementary form of knowledge about the land, which is often key for thinking about decisions around land management or land use planning. So when designing a community mapping methodology, it’s important to make sure that the perspective of women, and really also that of youth and elders and all segments of the community, are just as well represented.
What are some of the risks with data collection by Indigenous women?
Betty Rubio, Kichwa Leader, Peru: The conflicts and the risks that we have run into in the work that we do. We are threatened because of the things that we have complained about, including environmental issues and illegal logging and mining. So we as women are very concerned and that is a great risk. As women as a whole, and even myself, I have felt threatened to be a spokeswoman for the community.
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