You may be asking yourself what is data sovereignty? Who owns it, who has it? All Indigenous people according to the United Nations Declaration for the rights of Indigenous People have a human right to their own information, data, and documentation thereof. Data sovereignty is the physical location or locations of an Indigenous nation's data and the area of storage management involved with issues specific to managing data in those particular locations; data residency is sometimes called data sovereignty.
Indigenous nations are finding that their data and in this case their numbers of COVID-19 cases need collected data sovereignty and cross-tribal solidarity in all parts of Indian country, territories, including cities, and all Indigenous communities if a discussion about the actual number of cases are to become public information.
We do know that Indigenous nations have some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 related cases. I say related because of pre-existing health conditions of Indigenous people and how those conditions increase their chance of death. Some of the pre-existing conditions include and are not limited to limited access to health care, lack of protective equipment, obesity, smoking, diabetes (Indigenous people are twice as likely as whites to have diabetes), hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The very young and the elders are at particular higher risk. According to a 2020 report in Indian Country Today, Black, Hispanic and Native American people have accounted for a disproportionate share of the deaths, underscoring the economic and health care disparities in the U.S.
The Center for Disease Control does have COVID-19 data, but it is not aggregated Indigenous and other people of color are part of those numbers so their actual numbers of the correlation of economic (poverty) and health care disparities in the U.S. go unfounded. All Indigenous nations have highly educated and highly skilled individuals who have begun collecting this data (data sovereignty) and will begin disseminating it among other nations (cross-tribal solidarity).
It is imperative that your nation be part of the data sovereignty that is moving across our country. Unless we have factual numbers, Indigenous nations will not know how many Indigenous people have perished. We need accurate numbers from the U.S. as well as other Indigenous countries to report to the International Indian Treaty Council and the United Nations in order to demonstrate our support and that we are doing our part for “Collective Liberation” for the survival of Indigenous populations and people of color. And that this support extends to all movements that address unity, that we can and will become a culture of abundance and need to exercise our solutions (original teachings, traditional knowledge).
This time is more important than ever as we see the violence in our streets and communities across the country become chronic conditions and when equality for all people does not exist.
Lastly, let us not forget the millions of animals and habitat that burned in the fires in 2019 and now in 2020 and how they played an integral role in keeping our environments safe and balanced in a complex and fast changing and disappearing eco-system. In order to do our part as individuals we must use our time that has unexpectedly been given to us due to COVID-19 and the physical distancing efforts to think things through and act on them.
Resolution 61/295. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples the General Assembly, taking note of the recommendation of the Human Rights Council contained in its resolution 1/2 of June 29, 2006, one by which the Council adopted the text of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recalling its resolution 61/178 of Dec. 20, 2006, by which it decided to defer consideration of and action on the Declaration to allow time for further consultations thereon, and also decided to conclude its consideration before the end of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly, adopts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as contained in the annex to the present resolution. 107th plenary meeting Sept. 13, 2007).
Article 45. Nothing in this Declaration may be construed as diminishing or extinguishing the rights Indigenous peoples have now or may acquire in the future according to the United Nations Declaration for the rights of Indigenous people.
Vivian Delgado is a professor of Native American studies at Bemidji State University.