Securing indigenous rights through data

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda will guide the world in the next 15 years and its ambitious goal to “leave no one behind” is clear. But when it comes to respecting indigenous visions of development, there is a big gap to fill – and that is data.

World leaders are currently discussing how to put in practice the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. This global effort presents major challenges for countries with indigenous populations, since in most cases, governments do not count with reliable statistics to assess the current situation of indigenous communities.The lack of data in itself discriminates and relegates indigenous demands on national agendas and in public policy.

The 370 million indigenous women, men and children in the world continue to be overrepresented amongst the poor, illiterate and unemployed.

The root causes behind their social and financial exclusion are complex and multifaceted, but discrimination and physical remoteness (in terms of where indigenous communities live) are often key. And no matter which country we look at, the common denominator is the lack of disaggregated data.

This is why the SDGs have to address the disparities created by standardised development methods that tend to favour dominant societies. For example, several of the notions applied in the measurement of living standards do not correspond to the situation in which indigenous peoples live, as the definitions for unemployment, health and poverty are very different for indigenous peoples.

Perhaps the most important is the definition of poverty, which indigenous peoples describe as being ‘landless’. For them, the relationship with the land is the material basis of their identity and spirituality. It is this type of qualitative dimension, that is absent in current national surveys and censuses.

Data can repair a historical social injustice

A new global initiative backed by the United Nations (UN)and the European Union (EU), the Indigenous Navigator, will play a key role in ensuring that indigenous peoples can collect and use data on their rights to raise their demands.

The Indigenous Navigator offers free online community-based tools to monitor the implementation of indigenous rights and its first set of open source data will be available on an interactive database in 2018.

On Friday 14 July, the United Nations headquarters in New York will host a learning and practice session where indigenous leaders and experts will explore the tool together.

But how is it possible to measure indigenous rights globally? This tool directly relates each internationally recognised right of indigenous peoples with a specific indicator that measures its implementation in a bid to make visible the concrete situations in which the people behind the data live.

Here is an explanation of four ways in which disaggregated data will make indigenous peoples visible in the 2030 Development Agenda:

• The local communities are the experts. The MDGs were highly criticised for not including indigenous peoples in the creation of targets and indicators. For change to be truly transformative, the communities most affected must stop being understood as passive change agents. The Indigenous Navigator functions under the premise that without the contribution of indigenous communities, the SDGs will not reflect their world views. All indicators and questionnaires have been built together with local communities and reviewed by them as a part of the project. Indigenous peoples diversify the global development agenda.

• Community data will complement national statistics. The Indigenous Navigator does not intend to compete with state obligations, but rather to ensure the inclusion and respect of different visions of future, which current methods fail to capture. “It is important to include what communities think about the data, since they complement and offer a parallel reading of what really happens on the ground,” explains Martin Oelz, one of the coordinators of the project and a senior specialist on equality and non-discrimination for the International Labour Organization (ILO).

• Indigenous claims will be strengthened and better documented. Despite the visibility indigenous demands have gained in the last years, indigenous organisations still face obstacles in demonstrating that their rights are constantly violated. “We are the best to evaluate if the indicators work for us,” summarises the leader of the Major Group of Indigenous Peoples at the UN Joan Carling. It is precisely the data disaggregated by ethnicity that will play a central role in preventing violations of their rights hidden in national censuses.

• Humanitarian workers will more easily solve their tasks. Beyond benefiting indigenous communities, the Indigenous Navigator will guide the measurements of the UN, development agencies, institutions and NGOs. By providing a common understanding, experts in the area will be able to systematically measure the progress of their actions in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples. Putting human rights first, different key actors will be able to compare the impact of their efforts with the implementation of rights on the ground.

In recent years, and especially after the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, the UN has repeatedly called for building and implementing appropriate indicators to protect the well-being of indigenous peoples around the world.

Tools like the Indigenous Navigator build on this call, ensuring a sustainable, inclusive agenda where implementation goals are anchored in recognised rights.

Whenever states commit to global goals, the aspirations of the most vulnerable populations are put into play. The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda offers the great challenge of making sure that their goals are not taken over by notions of development that so far have shown more failures than victories.