Executive summary


Indigenous peoples have unique assets and opportunities but continue to face exclusion and inequalities, and addressing them is critical to achieving the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to “leave no-one behind”

Indigenous peoples are defined by the United Nations as those who inhabited a country prior to colonisation and who self-identify as such due to descent from these peoples and belonging to social, cultural or political institutions that govern them. Across 12 OECD member countries, there are approximately 38 million Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples also live in a number of non-member countries that work closely with the OECD (e.g. Brazil, Costa Rica and Peru).

Indigenous peoples have unique assets and knowledge that address global challenges such as environmental sustainability and that contribute to stronger regional and national economies. Traditional knowledge (a living system of knowledge and practices developed by Indigenous peoples over millennia that continues to develop and change) supports better natural resource management, innovations in food production and harvesting, and the utilisation of biological resources for health and well-being. Indigenous peoples are taking control of resources to develop competitive businesses in areas such as mining, tourism, and arts and creative industries. Beyond these many achievements and contributions, they make a significant contribution to the world’s cultural and linguistic diversity.

Across far too many indicators – income, employment, life expectancy and educational attainment – there are significant gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in many countries. According to the United Nations, while Indigenous peoples represent about 5% of the world’s population, they comprise 15% of the world’s extreme poor and one-third of the rural poor. The analysis in this report shows that these gaps are larger in rural and remote areas. For example, gaps in the employment rate between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples living in urban regions is on average 8.4 percentage points across a sample of OECD member countries (Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States) whereas it is 20.2 percentage points in rural regions.

Vibrant Indigenous economies are fundamental to self-determination

Indigenous entrepreneurship and business growth are fundamental to addressing the challenges facing Indigenous peoples in rural areas. Entrepreneurship gives Indigenous peoples the opportunity to use assets and resources in ways that align with their objectives for development and can generate opportunities for own-source revenues. It supports self-determination by reducing dependency relationships with government institutions and on transfers, and increases their scope to make decisions about matters that affect them. Vibrant Indigenous economies are achievable through the leadership and innovation of Indigenous communities with governments supporting them to deliver on their objectives for development. Activating these opportunities depends on four interconnected elements: i) good data; ii) enabling policies for entrepreneurship; iii) instruments to mobilise land for development; and iv) effective and inclusive governance. Across these four elements, a place-based approach is critical to match these elements with the diverse needs and aspirations of Indigenous peoples across different types of regions and empowering them to take a leadership role in regional and rural development strategies.


1. Improve Indigenous statistics and data governance

  • Develop and apply an agreed national definition of Indigenous peoples that is inclusive and consistent with the principles of the (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169 (self-identification, descent and belonging to a group).

  • Include Indigenous territories in the standard geographic classification for the collection and reporting of statistics.

  • Include Indigenous representatives in the governance of national statistical agencies to provide advice on strategic and operational issues impacting on Indigenous peoples (e.g. the design of well-being indicators and data collection methods).

  • Provide regular reporting of Indigenous well-being outcomes (economic, social and environmental dimensions) at the national and subnational levels (disaggregated by urban, rural and remote regions) and by gender and age dimensions (that are internationally comparable and in line with the SDGs).

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

  • Introduce a consistent Indigenous business identifier into the system of national statistics.

  • Enable a place-based approach to economic development by providing frameworks, guidance and tools for community-led economic development plans that are based on Indigenous values and perspectives.

  • Providing Indigenous-specific equity and loan facilities that address imperfections (such as less competition, lack of collateral and discrimination) in credit markets for Indigenous communities (from micro-enterprises to established businesses).

  • Increase the effectiveness of financial intermediation by supporting the formation of locally owned Indigenous institutions that can provide financial and business development support services to local communities (thereby by building capacity within communities and better matching business support to local conditions).

  • Improve public procurement policies targeted at Indigenous businesses by using a combination of targets and set-asides to facilitate the inclusion of Indigenous owned businesses in public procurement markets and provide regular reporting on outcomes.

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

  • Ensure Indigenous tenure is reflected in statutory instruments, in accordance with existing obligations under national law.

  • Create opportunities for Indigenous peoples to benefit from surface and sub-surface resources by clarifying property rights over natural resources and providing commercially viable pathways to exploit these resources and/or lease them to third parties.

  • Implement agreements that support the inclusion and leadership of Indigenous peoples in conservation and natural resource management, and give opportunities for Indigenous peoples to generate economic development opportunities from them (e.g. land stewardship, ecosystem services and cultural and tourism activities).

  • Develop a national framework for consultation with Indigenous groups about project development that aligns with international standards of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007).

  • Support the implementation of benefit sharing agreements by developing accessible databases that systematically record and publish benefit-sharing agreements (excluding commercial-in-confidence information), in order to ensure more transparency and, ultimately, more accountability.

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

  • Develop or enhance national strategic frameworks for Indigenous economic development that incorporate Indigenous values and perspectives about development, recognise the need to be place-specific and define measurable outcomes, which provides a basis for learning, evaluation and feedback.

  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities of different actors involved in Indigenous economic development and build capacities of public officials at the local level to broker and facilitate solutions (rather than just managing programmes and administrative matters).

  • Establish meaningful protocols and obligations for engagement with Indigenous peoples on policies that affect them and strengthen the capacity of Indigenous leaders and organisations to participate in decision-making.

  • Support community brokers who can build relationships with public and private institutions, take advantage of development opportunities and address complex challenges.

  • Foster alliances between Indigenous communities to increase economies of scale and address issues of common interest (e.g. services provision, consultation on major projects and procurement).

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