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Indigenous data sovereignty

Fulbright Scholar to work with Indigenous communities in BC

A smiling woman with a forest background.

This fall visiting Research Chair in Indigenous Studies, Dr. Shanna Lorenz, is working on a project with exciting implications for First Nations. The pilot project involves an app called Our Data Indigenous, which she helped design.

Our Data Indigenous is set up in a way that respects Indigenous values and ways of knowing. And each community will control its own data. Our Data Indigenous follows OCAP (Ownership, Control, Access, Possession) Principles and Ethics. OCAP™ principles recognize that Indigenous communities have an inherent right to data and information about them.

Why does Indigenous data sovereignty matter? Researchers have historically abused and misused data collected from Indigenous communities. For example, in the 1980s a researcher took blood samples from hundreds of Nuuchah-nulth community members as part of an arthritis study. He kept the samples after the study was complete and used them in over 200 reports. He covered topics ranging from population genetics to HIV/AIDS. All of this was done without the permission of the community.

In the 1970s the results of a study on alcoholism in an Alaskan community were released to the press. There were social and economic consequences for the community. Data sovereignty ensures that this kind of abuse cannot happen.

Another reason data sovereignty is important is that Indigenous communities can choose what data has value to them.  

While at VIU, Lorenz will work with Indigenous communities in BC to add geographic information system (GIS) capabilities to the app. With GIS, communities can collect and map information related to:

  • environmental monitoring
  • cultural sites
  • language usage

The Indigenous communities using the app will decide what data is collected and how it’s used or shared.

We’re pleased to have Lorenz with us for four months, and we look forward to seeing the results of this important project. To learn more, read the VIU news article, Using technology to support Indigenous data sovereignty.

To learn more about OCAP™, read Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP™): The Path to First Nations Information Governance by First Nations Information Governance Centre.

Students looking at oysters in a research lab.

Research with impact

Looking to make an impact? At VIU you can start meaningful research as an undergrad student. We offer a wide range of research options in the classroom and beyond. We also help undergrads secure funding for research activities. 

Learn about student research

Past highlights

VIU research makes positive contributions to the well-being of the region. There is no better example of this than HarmCheck, a pilot program using drug-checking technology developed at VIU.

VIU chemistry professor Chris Gill and his team of researchers developed a way to use paper spray mass spectrometer testing to detect contaminants like fentanyl in street drugs. The test takes one to two minutes and has the potential to save lives. VUI undergrads took part in this game-changing research.

HarmCheck is a collaboration between VIU and the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project funded by the province of BC.

To learn more, read the BC Government news announcement of the project.

The VIU Wellness Lounge is a cozy space where students can hang out, relax and connect with Wellness Peers and even cuddle a therapy dog. Research indicates that time with therapy dogs can help reduce stress and increase happiness in university students. The Wellness Lounge also features free hot drinks, colouring sheets and Wellness Peers who are always happy to chat.

Bachelor of Science student Kennedy Ordano became a Wellness Peer after her professors advocated for mental health for her and her classmates. When Kennedy learned about the Wellness Lounge she wanted to offer the same advocacy for others.

Learn more about Kennedy’s experience as a Wellness Peer on the VIU blog.