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Subverting the universality of metadata standards: The TK labels as a tool to promote Indigenous data sovereignty

María Montenegro (University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 18 June 2019

Issue publication date: 21 June 2019




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the underlying meanings, effects and cultural patterns of metadata standards, focusing on Dublin Core (DC), and explore the ways in which anticolonial metadata tools can be applied to exercise and promote Indigenous data sovereignty.


Applying an anticolonial approach, this paper examines the assumptions underpinning the stated roles of two of DC’s metadata elements, rights and creator. Based on that examination, the paper considers the limitations of DC for appropriately documenting Indigenous traditional knowledge (TK). Introduction of the TK labels and their implementation are put forward as an alternative method to such limitations in metadata standards.


The analysis of the rights and creator elements revealed that DC’s universality and supposed neutrality threaten the rightful attribution, specificity and dynamism of TK, undermining Indigenous data sovereignty. The paper advocates for alternative descriptive methods grounded within tribal sovereignty values while recognizing the difficulties of dealing with issues of interoperability by means of metadata standards given potentially innate tendencies to customization within communities.


This is the first paper to directly examine the implications of DC’s rights and creator elements for documenting TK. The paper identifies ethical practices and culturally appropriate tools that unsettle the universality claims of metadata standards. By introducing the TK labels, the paper contributes to the efforts of Indigenous communities to regain control and ownership of their cultural and intellectual property.



This paper was written in Los Angeles, CA, which is the unceded territory of the Tongva people, the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (Los Angeles basin, So. Channel Islands). As a non-Native Student pursuing a degree in a land grant institution, the author pay her respects to this land’s ancestors, elders and their relatives/relations past, present and emerging and recognize their continuing connections to land, water and resources.


Montenegro, M. (2019), "Subverting the universality of metadata standards: The TK labels as a tool to promote Indigenous data sovereignty", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 4, pp. 731-749.



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