A reimagined future for indigenous peoples

13 December 2021
New Zealand’s Te Aratini festival signifies the importance of enabling greater international economic cooperation and solidarity among the world’s indigenous and tribal peoples
Between 14-20 November 2021, Expo 2020 held its Tolerance & Inclusivity Week, discussing smart cities, sustainable urban development and innovative solutions. Learn more here
The Aotearoa New Zealand pavilion held the Te Aratini 'Festival of Indigenous and Tribal Ideas’ as part of the week between 17-19 November.

Indigenous peoples’ economies provide the foundation upon which many modern economies are built and now flourish.

Contrary to popular soundbites, the global pandemic is not the source of economic inequity experienced by the world’s indigenous peoples today. Covid-19 certainly exacerbated adverse conditions for these communities, but structural disadvantage and economic marginalisation has persisted for centuries, creating an imbalance in how we care for the planet and the wellbeing of these longstanding communities.

However, in the wake of the pandemic, indigenous peoples are increasingly searching for and identifying ways to maintain continued access to supply chains critical to their communities' survival.

Many are identifying key partnerships to support supply chains that feed into rural and remote regions that have limited access to essential goods and services, as well as in urban settings where many indigenous peoples experience multiple sources of marginalisation and disconnection from their indigenous and tribal roots.

Indigenous businesses are also looking at how they can capture more of the value chain as their businesses grow and thrive across traditional and new and emerging sectors.

Re-engaging with international trade in a way that recognises, respects and upholds indigenous values and responsibilities alongside their rights, interests and aspirations is a movement that is emerging at pace.

This movement combines the values, innovation, know-how and ancient wisdom needed to design a future that responsibly sustains all ecosystems that make flourishing on this planet possible for all forms of life.

According to the World Bank, there are 370 to 500 million indigenous peoples worldwide in over 90 countries representing 5,000 different cultures. Given the range of factors that can impact population data collection, this is likely to be a gross underestimation.

Demographically, indigenous and tribal peoples are youthful and will be the curators of the future’s solutions. Indigenous peoples remain the guardians of 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity and its wellbeing is central to humanity’s survival. Indigenous peoples also speak more than 4,000 of the world’s 6,700 languages, but it is estimated that one indigenous language dies every two weeks.

What is well known among indigenous peoples is that when a language dies, so too does exclusive knowledge that has been observed, collected, transmitted and validated in their languages for thousands of generations.

From an indigenous perspective, economic cooperation is not simply about lifting incomes and creating jobs. While those are important from a practical point of view, they form only a part of the broader resurgence story.

Instead, for indigenous peoples, economic cooperation inherently calls for self-determination and the protection, maintenance and responsible use of the many sources of wealth that are tied to their identities and values systems – their cultures, languages, customs, values, sciences, data, knowledge, arts, food, plants, soils, waters, forests, technologies and all those things that have enabled and will enable all life to flourish on this planet.

Trade and economic cooperation for indigenous peoples can broadly be framed around two core values: relationships and reciprocity.

Relationships among humans, with the natural and spiritual worlds and reciprocity within and between those relationships, can ensure we are living in harmony with nature in a way that drives us all toward peaceful coexistence.

Establishing these meaningful and enduring connections that enable the relational transformation between peoples from strangers to friends – and in many cases forging family-like relationships – distinguishes indigenous philosophies and approaches to trade and economic cooperation from the broader commercially focused international economic and trading system.

Reshaping identities

Notably, indigenous peoples globally are at varying stages in their economic resurgence journeys. While some have benefited from commercial settlements and reconciliation agreements with settler governments, others are still fighting for recognition of their identities.

Indigenous peoples have always been global and are among the earliest navigators and entrepreneurs on the earth. Colonisation may have disrupted their journeys, but indigenous leaders have spent generations rebuilding those shaken foundations despite the structural barriers to the realisation of their self-determination.

Held during Tolerance and Inclusivity week at Expo 2020 Dubai, Te Aratini: Festival of Indigenous and Tribal Ideas was underpinned by a call for radical economic inclusion, framing it in a way that transcends familiar notions of social equity toward active involvement and participation of the world’s indigenous and tribal peoples and their businesses in the global marketplace.

The overarching mission of this inaugural event was to enhance mutual trust, respect and solidarity among the participating nations, and – on a global platform – to foster a deeper and holistic understanding of Indigenous worldviews and the converging roles of culture, commerce, community, and conservation in the resurgence of their economies.

As indigenous economies experience a greater resurgence, international trade becomes an increasingly important economic lever to support the sustainable economic development of their tribes and communities.

Indigenous peoples’ economic experiences continue to be shaped, refined and defined in new ways, both positive and negative, in response to the pandemic and the ongoing structural barriers that inhibit full and active participation in global trade and the economy.

Te Aratini was a step into a reimagined future where indigenous and tribal peoples could see themselves as active participants and not as historicised identities in the global economic recovery.

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