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Ethics & Human Research

Navigating University Openness in Research Policy Inconsistent with Indigenous Data Sovereignty: A Case Analysis

ABSTRACT Indigenous nations and communities in the United States have rights as sovereign governments to exercise control and ownership over all data and information generated by or from the tribes, tribal members, or tribal resources. Indigenous nations exercise these rights through data ownership policies established in response to unethical research practices in research involving Indigenous communities. Most universities in the U.S. have “openness in research” policies to ensure academic freedom to publish freely, exercised by retaining university control of data. Here, we describe our study of cultural ecosystem services in the St. Louis River estuary region (Nagaajiwanaang in the lan-guage Ojibwemowin) in Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, U.S., an area that includes portions of the 1854 and 1842 Ceded Territories and reservation lands of a local band of Ojibwe (hereafter referred to as “the Band”). In this university-led, Band-supported study, both the university and the Band sought ownership of data collected based on their respective policies, resulting in a research delay of nearly a year. We found that open research policies that do not consider Indigenous sovereignty can hamper collaboration between university researchers and tribal nations, even when there is broad agreement on research goals and objectives. University open research policies that do not explicitly address Indigenous sovereignty fall short of the open research principles they intend to support and should be revised. Formal adoption of principles for ethical research with sovereign tribal governments by universities is needed to improve coordination and trust among university and tribal researchers and members.

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