There are approximately 38 million Indigenous people living in 12 OECD member countries. Indigenous peoples make an important contribution to the culture, heritage and economic development of these member countries. Their diverse spiritual beliefs and worldviews are rooted in kinship and strong connections to land and nature, emphasising its stewardship. Indigenous worldviews thus contribute to illuminating the path to sustainable development.

Historical events have shaped the well-being of Indigenous peoples today. European settlements, for example, severely shrunk and permanently altered the land and resources available for Indigenous peoples to sustain their traditional economies. Dependency relationships with states and religious institutions further resulted in Indigenous economic activities being determined within a framework set by non-Indigenous peoples. As a result, the economic agency of Indigenous peoples was diminished, negatively affecting their well-being, language and culture.

For the first time, this OECD report provides comparative empirical analysis of Indigenous well-being at national and subnational levels for five OECD member countries: Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States. It shows that across far too many indicators – income, employment, life expectancy and educational attainment – there are significant gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Indigenous peoples have, for example, an annual household income that is on average about 30% lower than that of the non-Indigenous population. Indigenous rates of secondary school completion are 20 percentage points lower and employment participation is 13 percentage points lower compared to the non-Indigenous population. Improving the well-being of Indigenous peoples in these and other areas is critical to achieving inclusive development and the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals “to leave no one behind”.

Moreover, Indigenous peoples are often concentrated spatially, making geography a key factor in shaping well-being outcomes. Gaps in well-being between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are typically larger in rural areas: the gap in the employment rate is, for example, at 8.6 percentage points in urban regions, while it is more than double –18.4 percentage points – in rural regions. At the same time, Indigenous peoples’ strong attachment and belonging to territories and traditional knowledge often remains an untapped asset for generating regional economic opportunities, mainly because Indigenous peoples are often disconnected from efforts to promote regional and rural development. This disconnect contributes to continued disparities in their socio-economic outcomes and often affects their ability to carry out their traditional way of life.

Over recent decades, many Indigenous peoples have asserted their rights to determine their own economic destinies and developed innovative partnerships to promote regional development. These efforts show that vibrant Indigenous economies are fundamental to self-determination. This OECD report provides recommendations in four main areas to strengthen the enabling environment for Indigenous economies and build on these achievements:

  1. 1. Improving Indigenous statistics and data governance.

  2. 2. Creating an enabling environment for Indigenous entrepreneurship and small business development at the regional and local levels.

  3. 3. Improving the Indigenous land tenure system to facilitate opportunities for economic development.

  4. 4. Adapting policies and governance to implement a place-based approach to economic development that improves policy coherence and empowers Indigenous communities.

This OECD report provides actionable recommendations for governments to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples to develop vibrant Indigenous economies in regional areas. It contributes to the work programme of the OECD on regional and rural development, and was approved by the Regional Development Policy Committee on 28 February 2019.

End of the section – Back to iLibrary publication page