Chapter 4. Towards a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development

The objective of this chapter is to identify good practices and lessons about governance mechanisms and tools for implementing a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development. The chapter begins by identifying typical governance failures the affect the implementation of a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development. It then identifies how these failures can be overcome by facilitating policy coherence, aligning implementation between levels of government, creating opportunities for meaningful participation, and strengthening the capacity of local Indigenous-led organisations.

Key findings and recommendations

Key findings

  • There is great diversity in the capacities and development objectives of place-based Indigenous communities within countries and policies need to adapt to these spatial differences.

  • There are four key governance challenges that inhibit the implementation of a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development. They are:

    1. 1. Lack of coherence in the delivery of services and programmes for Indigenous peoples at the local level.

    2. 2. Insufficient co-ordination between levels of government and sectors to realise policy complementarities.

    3. 3. Limited opportunities for Indigenous organisations and communities to shape planning and resource allocation decisions.

    4. 4. Weaknesses in Indigenous community capacity such as the quality and depth of leadership, financial management and sustainability, and lack of scale.

  • Governments and Indigenous communities across the five countries have made significant progress in addressing these four challenges and the chapter identifies a range of good practices and lessons in relation to each of them.


Facilitate policy coherence by developing (or enhancing) national strategic policy frameworks for Indigenous economic development that:

  • Incorporate Indigenous values and perspectives about development into policy frameworks.

  • Align policy outcomes across levels of government and sectors and articulate differences in development challenges and opportunities for Indigenous peoples in urban, rural and remote regions.

  • Incentivise the use of mechanisms and tools that support the implementation of a place-based approach and better link Indigenous peoples with regional development efforts (e.g. local area data, community brokers and participation in existing regional governance structures).

  • Define short-, medium- and long-term outcomes that can be measured (and disaggregated across different types of regions) to enable evaluation, learning and feedback.

Align implementation and enhance co-ordination between levels of government and across different sectoral policies as well as with Indigenous communities by:

  • Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of different actors involved in Indigenous economic development.

  • Strengthening co-ordination mechanisms across ministries and agencies, and between levels of government, for Indigenous economic development programmes and projects.

  • Building capabilities at the local level for public officials to broker and facilitate solutions (rather than just managing programmes and administrative matters).

  • Using formalised agreements between levels of governments and Indigenous communities to address issues of strategic importance and monitor their implementation.

Create opportunities for meaningful participation in government decision-making for Indigenous peoples by:

  • Establishing protocols and obligations for engagement of Indigenous peoples across the policy cycle (definition of the problem, the development of policies, as well as implementation and evaluation of outcomes).

  • Addressing asymmetries of power in engagement processes and strengthening the capacity of Indigenous leaders and organisations to participate in decision-making about development.

  • Developing cross-cultural competencies within public institutions at all levels.

  • Supporting the recruitment and progression of Indigenous staff in public institutions.

Strengthen the capacity of Indigenous-led organisations by providing resources and tools that enable the:

  • Creation of regional advisory services and innovation hubs, and support for the co-development of institutions (e.g. governance and leadership, research and development, and advocacy organisations).

  • Emergence of Indigenous community brokers that can help local communities navigate public and private institutions, take advantage of development opportunities, and address complex challenges.

  • Building of alliances between Indigenous communities to increase scale and address issues of common interest (e.g. on service provision, engaging with project proponents on major projects and procurement).


The objective of this chapter is to identify good practices and lessons about governance mechanisms and tools for implementing a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development. The chapter begins by discussing how governance arrangements can help enable a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development. It then identifies four typical governance failures that affect implementation of this approach: i) lack of coherence in Indigenous economic development policy; ii) insufficient co-ordination between ministries, levels of government and sectors; iii) limited opportunities for Indigenous communities to shape planning and resource allocation decisions; and iv) weaknesses in Indigenous capacities to manage and drive economic development. Each section of the chapter identifies how governments and Indigenous communities are addressing these governance failures and identifies good practices and lessons. Overall, the chapter emphasises the importance of shifting from a top-down and one-size-fits-all approach towards one that empowers Indigenous communities, fosters partnerships and adapts policies to their needs and aspirations.

Framework for assessing a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development

Scope and context

The previous chapters identified that place is fundamental to Indigenous identity and shapes economic development and well-being outcomes for Indigenous peoples. Each of these places has different endowments, histories and accessibility to markets and opportunities. Developing these places requires addressing multiple factors (human capital, infrastructure, innovative capacity) in an integrated way, which aligns with local circumstances. Local communities have the knowledge about these local circumstances and should lead decision-making about development. Therefore, policy and governance arrangements are needed which can mobilise this potential in a way that is driven by local communities.

Governments can structure governance arrangements in ways that can build local capacity to promote economic development or inhibit it. Governments play a key role in setting the framework conditions for Indigenous economic development through their strategy setting, policy design and implementation, and brokering between stakeholders. Governance instruments can be seen as a set of tools by which governments use their power to support or prevent societal change (Turi, 2016[1]). Historically, across OECD member countries policies targeted at Indigenous peoples did not work towards self-determination but created systems of disempowerment, taking away Indigenous rights, identity and culture, dispossessing them of their traditional lands and their ability to govern themselves by eroding their social capital and leadership capabilities. Consequently, possibilities for creating own-source revenues became limited, contributing to poorer socio-economic outcomes and dependency upon state and religious institutions (Dodson and Smith, 2003[2]). Most importantly, governments did not incorporate the needs and aspirations of Indigenous peoples. This governance system was largely unsuccessful leaving regional assets immobilised and Indigenous peoples disempowered.

Across advanced OECD countries, there has been a shift toward self-determination (the right for Indigenous peoples to govern their own affairs and shape relations with institutions within the framework of the nation-state). These shifts have occurred over a long period of time but gained strong momentum across a number of different countries from the 1960s and 1970s. The movement toward self-determination was essentially a bottom-up process led by community leaders and arose out of critiques of a long-term approach characterised by policies of state and religious institutions aimed at assimilating Indigenous peoples. Many countries accept self-determination as a key principle in Indigenous policy and is reflected in the institutional arrangements that have been established within their policy frameworks for Indigenous affairs. Self-determination is also embodied in international declarations and covenants, strengthening the legal basis for a new and more equitable relationship with national and subnational governments. This shift toward self-determination is still an evolutionary process that is uneven between countries.

Box 4.1. Indigenous self-determination and governance

Self-determination implies different forms of governance that enable Indigenous communities to take control over decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods. However, trajectories of Indigenous self-determination and the governance reforms that help realise them are uneven between and within countries. What constitutes good governance for Indigenous peoples is also a contested concept (Tsey et al., 2012[3]).

Studies have shown a positive association between effective local Indigenous governance and reduced welfare dependency and the emergence of economic activity, higher levels of multi-dimensional well-being, improved resource use and increases in the contribution to regional non-Indigenous economies (Cornell and Kalt, 2003[4]; Vining and Richards, 2016[5]). These findings are consistent with a wider literature that examines the association between the quality of institutions and regional economic performance (Morgan, 1997[6]; Wood and Valler, 2004[7]; Rodríguez-Pose, 2013[8]). Cornell and Kalt (2003[4]) and Cornell (2006[9]) propose three key reasons why self-governance results in better long-term outcomes for Indigenous peoples:

  • Citizens are engaged in collective efforts to improve community well-being.

  • Policy choices are more likely to reflect the interests, needs and aspirations of Indigenous peoples.

  • Transparency and accountability of local leaders and decision-making capacities are improved.

However, a number of key conditions need to be in place for this to be effective particularly capable governing institutions that are matched to the social and cultural characteristics of Indigenous groups and avoid pitfalls such as corruption, nepotism, confusion about roles and responsibilities, and lack of accountability (Cornell, 2006[9]; Tsey et al., 2012[3]).

International declarations and covenants also strengthen the legal basis for a new and more equitable relationship with national and subnational governments (Daes, 1984[10]). The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (1989) of the International Labour Organization is based on principles of self-determination and sets out rights in relation to land, employment, education and training, and social security. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by most member countries in 2007. The declaration establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of Indigenous peoples. It promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them as well as their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development (UN, 2008[11]).

Sources: Tsey, K. et al. (2012[3]), Improving Indigenous Community Governance through Strengthening Indigenous and Government Organisational Capacity, (accessed on 02 August 2018); Cornell, S. and J. Kalt (2003[4]), Joint Occasional Papers on Native Affairs Alaska Native Self-Government and Service Delivery: What Works?, (accessed on 24 October 2018); Vining, A. and J. Richards (2016[5]), “Indigenous economic development in Canada: Confronting principal-agent and principal–principal problems to reduce resource rent dissipation”,; Morgan, K. (1997[6]), “The learning region: Institutions, innovation and regional renewal”,; Wood, A. and D. Valler (2004[7]), Governing Local and Regional Economies: Institutions, Politics, and Economic Development, Ashgate; Rodríguez-Pose, A. (2013[8]), “Do institutions matter for regional development?”,; Cornell, S. (2006), “Indigenous Peoples, poverty and self-determination in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States”,http://nni.arizona.edu (accessed on 10 August 2018); Daes, E. (1984[10]), “An overview of the history of indigenous peoples: Self-determination and the United Nations”,; UN (2008[11])United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (accessed on 26 October 2018). 

Implementing a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development

Four key governance failures can create barriers and bottlenecks to the implementation of a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development. The first is a lack of coherence in Indigenous economic development policies. This is due to policy frameworks that do not align different objectives across governments and sectors, articulate how programmes should be adapted to different places, do not properly consider Indigenous values and perspectives, and lack measurable outcomes with evaluation and feedback mechanisms (Dodson and Smith, 2003[2]; National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, 2011[12]; NSW Ombudsman, 2016[13]). The second is the lack of mechanisms and tools to co-ordinate investment and programmes between levels of government and sectors to realise policy complementarities. Legal rights frameworks fundamentally shape who is responsible for Indigenous policies and governance, and these defined relationships can inhibit co-operation between levels of government and agencies (Dodson and Smith, 2003[2]; Williams, 2010[14]; Oakden et al., 2017[15]). The third is limited opportunities for Indigenous organisations and communities to shape planning and resource allocation decisions. Often there are significant power asymmetries, and government agencies often define the development agendas and Indigenous communities and organisations implement or respond to it (Tsey et al., 2012[3]; Curry and Donker, 2011[16]). The fourth is deficits in Indigenous community capacity such as the quality leadership, corporate governance, financial management and sustainability as well as access to local area data. This is the consequence of colonisation processes, which dismantled historical governance structures and replaced them with institutions dependent upon the state and/or religious organisations.

The chapter assesses current policy and practices in relation to how they address these governance failures. Overall, this chapter proposes that governments work toward a governance system that fosters place-based Indigenous economic development and has four elements:

  • Facilitates policy coherence: Having an opportunity-oriented national policy framework that incorporates Indigenous values and perspectives, is adapted to characteristics of different places, encourages community-led development and defines measurable outcomes.

  • Aligns objectives and implementation: Designing effective co-ordination mechanisms between different levels of government and with Indigenous peoples that result in alignment of policies, the realisation of synergies and fosters local and regional partnerships to support Indigenous communities to achieve their objectives for development.

  • Engages Indigenous peoples in decision-making: Collaboration with Indigenous peoples through high levels of participation and engagement, which includes Indigenous peoples in decision-making processes and policymaking as partners recognising the need to share power.

  • Strengthens capacities: Empowering Indigenous communities and strengthening governance capacities (e.g. capabilities such as financial management, and brokers who can mediate local conflicts and build relationships with non-Indigenous organisations).

Framework for assessing the governance of Indigenous economic development

The OECD identifies a set of principles and good practices to address persistent regional inequalities in productivity, employment and growth (OECD, 2016[17]) (see Chapter 2). This place-based approach to regional development has significant important implications for how government works. Policies should be adapted to the needs and circumstances (social, economic, cultural, geographic, environmental, etc.) of different regions. This requires the development of feedback loops and co-ordinating mechanisms between different levels of government to ensure policies and programmes are better matched to regional and local conditions. Policies should also be integrated horizontally to help realise complementarities between them. The concept of policy complementarity refers to the mutually reinforcing impact of different actions on a given policy outcome. Policies can be complementary because they support the achievement of a given target from different angles (Box 4.2). OECD member countries have put in different reforms to help facilitate this place-based approach to rural and regional development. However, challenges to integrating regional and rural development policies across levels of government remain. For instance, a lack of private sector participation in public investments and a lack of subnational government understanding of central government priorities and vice versa (OECD, 2014[18]).

Box 4.2. Policy complementarities

The concept of policy complementarity refers to the mutually reinforcing impact of different actions on a given policy outcome. Policies can be complementary because they support the achievement of a given target from different angles. This has been an important idea in terms of how to integrate and sequence structural reforms. This concept can be applied to regional development issues, for example:

  • Increased broadband internet access in rural areas should proceed along with policies that focus on the accessibility and diffusion of these services to the population.

  • Changes in land use zoning in cities induces shifts in mobility patterns, which requires co-ordination with transport planning and infrastructure improvements.

  • Investments in innovation and business ecosystems increase demand for skills within local labour markets, and therefore complementary local initiatives to attract talent and develop human capital are needed.

In effect, governments should frame interventions in infrastructure, human capital and innovation capacity within common policy packages that are complementary to sectoral approaches as well. This is particularly important when dealing with complexities associated with Indigenous economic development at local and regional levels. Policies need to be integrated horizontally, through management arrangements and development plans amongst different sectors, services and agencies within a given level of government. It also requires that policies are vertically integrated, from the national to the local level of government, and that interventions are territorially integrated and consider the interrelationships and interdependencies between different territories.

Source: OECD (2016[17]), OECD Regional Outlook 2016: Productive Regions for Inclusive Societies,

The success of place-based Indigenous economic development policy efforts depends upon multiple levels of government – Indigenous, subnational, national and sometimes supranational – working together toward shared outcomes. This type of alignment and co-ordination can be difficult because different levels of governments and agencies work to different objectives and accountabilities. To help countries address multi-level governance gaps and challenges, the OECD has developed the Principles on Effective Public Investment Across Levels of Government. The purpose of the OECD Principles is to help governments at all levels assess the strengths and weaknesses of their public investment capacity, using a whole-of-government approach, and set priorities for improvement (OECD, 2014[18]). The OECD Principles for Public Investment Across Levels of Government – particularly those related to co-ordinating mechanisms – provide a framework to help assess and identify ways to address multi-level governance challenges associated with place-based Indigenous economic development. The relevant principles for Indigenous economic development and a summary of the adaptations are outlined in Table 4.1.

Table 4.1. Adapting the OECD Principles for Public Investment to Indigenous economic development


Self-assessment indicators and key adaptations

Areas of focus for Indigenous economic development

Invest using an integrated strategy tailored to different places

Indicators relate to alignment in planning and prioritisation for Indigenous communities across levels of government and the use of data to inform planning and decision-making.

Integrating frameworks to facilitate policy coherence, recognising the local level:

Need for integrated strategies that define the policy agenda of national and/or subnational governments including for Indigenous economic development together with short-, medium- and long-term goals and indicators for evaluation.

Focus on results and promote learning

Indicators relate to evaluation frameworks and how they are used in the policy and investment cycle.

Adopt effective co-ordination instruments across levels of government

Indicators relate to the mechanisms established to co-ordinate national investments for Indigenous communities.

Effective co-ordination towards shared outcomes:

Clarify responsibilities, establish formalised co-ordination mechanisms across sectors and levels, create flexibilities for the delivery of policies at different spatial scales.

Co-ordinate across subnational governments to invest at the relevant scale

Indicators relate to co-operation at a subnational level (e.g. between Indigenous communities and surrounding municipalities) and how questions of spatial scale are resolved.

Encourage stakeholder involvement throughout the investment cycle

Indicators relate to the inclusion of Indigenous communities in the policy and investment cycle.

Engagement and partnerships:

Inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the policy cycle, through legal frameworks, high levels of engagement and cultural competency.

Source: Adaptation from OECD (2014[18]), Recommendation of the Council on Effective Public Investment Across Levels of Government, (accessed on 01 October 2018).

Indigenous economic development is also shaped by the community’s capacity to utilise its natural, physical, human and social capital resources to improve its standard of living and community well-being. Economic development involves converting each of these capitals into economic capital and has been discussed in Chapters 1 and 2 (Bourdieu, 1985[19]; Harker, Mahar and Wilkes, 1990[20]). The final part of the chapter discusses how Indigenous communities can build governance capacities. This is based on the idea that building institutions (endogenous leadership and capacity) and networks that link Indigenous-led institutions to power and resources enable them to manage, drive and contribute to regional economic development. (Table 4.2).

Table 4.2. Ways to build governance capacity

Institutions and networks

Strategies for Indigenous communities

Ecosystems for strengthening local governance

Create local strategies for capacity-building ecosystems that can help Indigenous institutions address capacity challenges. These should include regional advisory services and innovation hubs and support for co-development institutions (community controlled financial institutions, governance research and development, not-for-profit advocacy organisations).

Community brokers that add governance capacity

Provide funding support for community brokers (and the development of brokers) that add economic development capacity and support the development of alternative models of funding, like social investment.

Regional alliances to create scale

Support the building of alliances with other communities that can provide scale and create partnerships to drive policy change.

Facilitating policy coherence

This section assesses the challenges and lessons in creating policy frameworks that support the implementation of place-based approaches to Indigenous economic development. National governments have an important role to play in setting policy standards, targets and incentives for Indigenous economic development. They can set the framework for linking policies to the specific need of each region and influence the room for manoeuvre by designing policies that are adaptable. Further, they can support mutual learning across regions, disseminating successful approaches and appropriate innovations. Apart from its functional benefits, creating an integrated policy framework at the national level for Indigenous economic development can help governments to raise the importance of this issue and demonstrate the willingness to advance reconciliation. Along with Indigenous-specific strategies, regional economic development policy frameworks can also support the implementation of place-based approaches to Indigenous economic development. They can help link Indigenous communities with other local actors (municipalities, chambers of commerce, civil society) around a shared vision and priorities for development at the regional and local levels.

National policy frameworks for Indigenous economic development

Indigenous economic development is a complex policy challenge that encompasses all governance levels: global, national, regional and local. It also encompasses different sectoral policies including economic development, land use, infrastructure and skills. Addressing interconnectedness and balancing and reconciling different objectives poses a challenge to many governments (OECD, 2018[21]). To avoid this, the OECD advises countries to develop mechanisms that can streamline and co-ordinate policies and better match them to the needs and circumstances of different regions (OECD, 2016[17]; 2016[22]). This way different sectoral policies (e.g. health, education, housing, etc.) can be designed to complement each other by working towards the same objectives from different angles (OECD, 2016[17]). Self-determination is also an important consideration for Indigenous economic development and requires the incorporation of Indigenous values and perspectives into economic policies. Australia, Canada and New Zealand have taken steps to build more coherent economic development policies for Indigenous peoples through national strategies that define their approach towards Indigenous economic development. They focus on the need for a whole-of-government approach and increasingly define the government’s role as a broker, facilitator and enabler. The list of strategies analysed for this chapter is in Annex 4.A.

New Zealand’s He kai kei aku ringa – the Crown Māori Economic Growth Partnership – delivers well on all four aspects

New Zealand’s He kai kei aku ringa (HKKAR) (for a detailed description, see Box 4.3) together with its newly defined refresh, titled E RERE, sets itself apart from the other strategies through a focus on place-based development and grounding in Māori culture. Further, it also delivers on outcomes and integration. E RERE identifies the need to increase Māori participation in regional economies. It encourages regional and sectoral leadership to facilitate local ownership of actions and introduces a measurement of Māori participation in regional economies. HKKAR defines Indigenous economic development along the lines of Māori culture. It recognises whānau (extended family or community) as the foundation of the Māori economy and the essential unit of interaction. Despite being established through a Crown-Māori panel, the strategy was lacking local and regional input during its first years. Since, 2014, the strategy acknowledges the need for a more direct approach to engaging with regional Māori through iwi, hapū and whānau, particularly at a regional level, as well as with Māori enterprises. Further, it set up the Māori Economic Development Advisory Board to provide guidance, stewardship and monitoring of HKKAR. Regarding integration, the strategy covers topics like childcare, education and skills, in consultation with a range of ministries. Its action plan clearly defines which government or non-governmental agent is responsible for delivering on each action of the plan.

Box 4.3. He kai kei aku ringa – The Crown Māori Economic Growth Partnership

In 2012, New Zealand set-up He kai kei aku ringa, the Crown Māori Economic Growth Partnership and national Māori Economic Development Strategy, which provides a vision on growing a productive, innovative and internationally connected Māori economy. The name literally means “to provide the food you need with your own hands”, highlighting the economic self-determination of Māori people and the fact that this development programme is especially oriented at Māori and driven by whānau. The strategy defines 6 goals to achieve by 2040 and defined 26 recommendations in a 2012-27 action plan to achieve these goals. The six goals are:

  • Greater educational participation and performance.

  • Skilled and successful workforce.

  • Increased financial literacy and savings.

  • Government in partnership with Māori enabling growth.

  • Active discussion about the development of natural resources.

  • Māori Inc. as a driver of economic growth.

The strategy government as an enabler, empowering whānau and Māori Inc. to economic growth by creating a favourable business environment and providing better public services. For instance, one of the actions involves the creation of an information-sharing platform between Māori entities and the government to better match mainstream programmes to Māori needs.

The strategy is also informed by a place-based approach to economic development. For instance, communities that have specific needs are identified and public services targets disaggregated according to regional conditions. Further iwi and collectives are requested to determine their own skill needs, using existing government services or developing their own tools.

Outcomes of the strategy were evaluated in 2017 and highlighted that 42 000 more Māori people were in work since 2012 and unemployment rate had decreased by 2.3% – while still being more than double the national rate of 5.2. Many government agencies have grown their own Māori capabilities and embedded Māori approaches in their programmes, through co-design, collaboration, leadership and networks, to increase Māori participation.

Targets and indicators development following the refresh, titled E RERE (“to leap, run, fly”), are to be completed by 2021. They focus on growing the workforce, growing Māori enterprise, increasing Māori participation in regional economics and upskilling the Māori workforce. It puts even more focus on a place-based development approach, identifying and developing a cross-agency plan to encourage greater Māori participation in regional planning for and implementation of the Regional Growth Programme.

Sources: Te Puni Kōkiri (2012[23]), Action Plan 2012-2017 - Māori Economic Development Panel November 2012, Government of New Zealand; Te Puni Kōkiri (2017[24]), “Refreshing He Kai Kei Aku Ringa: The Crown-Māori economic growth partnership”,

Australia is targeting Indigenous economic development through three strategies – shifting towards more Indigenous involvement and localised approaches

Australia’s Indigenous economic development is shaped by three different national strategies: the Closing the Gap Strategy, the Indigenous Economic Development Strategy 2011-2018 and the Indigenous Business Strategy. The Closing the Gap Strategy, set up by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2008, represents a joint effort between all Australian governments. It also provides a broader framework for Indigenous economic development and business policies. Closing the Gap is organised around seven themes, which cover aspects such as early childhood and school education, employment and health, and economic development. Targets and indicators are established across these different policy themes. In terms of economic development, all states and territories have aligned in setting up Indigenous employment strategies, creating Indigenous targets in the public services and developing a strategic framework for Indigenous economic participation. On the downside, the strategy has not delivered on its targets and was criticised for being too deficit-focused and for not developing an understanding of how to capitalise on Indigenous assets and opportunities. After ten years, only three out of seven targets on track.

In December 2016, COAG agreed to refresh the Closing the Gap strategy. One of the weaknesses identified in relation to the initial framework was the limited involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in its design, development and implementation, as well as not accounting for geographical variance. The refresh included the release of a discussion paper, call for submissions and a series of workshops with stakeholders and experts. In December 2018, COAG released draft targets, which largely refine the existing architecture of Closing the Gap. Roundtables and engagement with Indigenous Australians also revealed priorities in regards to culture, racism and discrimination, trauma and healing, disability and social inclusion. However, it is not clear how these priorities will be reflected in the final framework. The Australian Productivity Commission will take a lead role in evaluating progress against the final targets, which will also take account of differences across urban, regional and remote areas.

The Australian Governments Indigenous Economic Development Strategy was released in 2011 and recognises the differences between urban, rural and remote locations. It highlights that ability to participate in the broader economy is often dependent on access to employment opportunities, markets, services, infrastructure, education, etc. and defines challenges according to specific locations. In terms of integration, the strategy specifies the need to continue working with states, territories, other ministries as well as the private sector on specific goals, as is the case in reforming the vocational education and training system with states and territories or working with the ABS on collecting and data on the Indigenous private sector. An evaluation framework for the strategy is not specified.

Many of the goals that are defined in the Indigenous Economic Development Strategy are elaborated in the 2018 Indigenous Business Sector Strategy. The Indigenous Business Sector Strategy is a ten-year strategy that aims to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders build sustainable businesses so they are able to support themselves, their families and contribute to the prosperity of their communities. Self-supporting Indigenous businesses are defined as a key for economic independence. It defines four areas of action:

  • Better business support.

  • Improved access to finance.

  • Stronger connections and relationships.

  • Harnessing the power of knowledge, meaning better sharing of information and data.

Each area contains actions that national, state and territory governments, Indigenous businesses and the private sector undertake in partnership, yet the specific responsibilities of the Commonwealth or states and territories are not defined. In terms of including Indigenous perspectives, a draft strategy was circulated for consultation but the outcomes of the consultations are not publicly accessible. To encourage further co-operation and stronger connections, the strategy set up an Implementation Advisory Group to guide and inform the implementation of the strategy’s actions, including representatives from the Indigenous business sector, peak groups and the non-Indigenous business sector. Further, the strategy establishes yearly Indigenous Business Summits that bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders to review and discuss the strategy. This will also inform the monitoring and evaluation of the strategy. The exact process of monitoring and evaluation, however, is not specified and goals lack indicators and a timeline for implementation. Consequently, the assessment of progress towards goals will be a challenge.

Countries that do not have national strategies

Sweden and the United States not have specific strategies for Indigenous economic development but opt for approaches of individual programmes or mainstreaming services. In the US, this can be ascribed to the sovereign status of Indigenous peoples and perception that economic development is a matter for individual tribes. Economic development programmes for Indigenous communities exist across a number of different departments and agencies (Department of the Interior – Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Commerce – Economic Development Administration, and the Department of Agriculture), mostly addressing the development of Indigenous economies within reserves. In Sweden, there is no specific economic development strategy for the Sámi peoples. Instead, mainstream strategies are required to be inclusive of the Sámi minority – which is often a challenge – or results in specific programmes designed for reindeer herders that enjoy Indigenous status (OECD, 2019[25]).

Canada also does not currently have a national strategy for Indigenous economic development. The previous Harper government had a Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development (2008) that focused on entrepreneurship, human capital, community assets, and partnerships (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2018[26]). Although it acknowledged the importance of inter-governmental co-ordination, there were no systemic measures to align federal, provincial and municipal planning and resource allocation decisions. Progress reports on implementation focused on activities and programme outputs but there was no framework for monitoring the achievement of outcomes. Under the current Trudeau government, priorities for the Indigenous portfolio are articulated in Department Plans (2018-19) for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC). Whereas ISC focuses on the provision of services to Indigenous peoples, CIRNAC focuses on nation-to-nation relationships, policies related to self-determination and leading on government policies for northern Canada. Both departments share a priority for community and regional development. The results and priorities for CIRNAC are outlined in Table 4.3. The role of ISC in delivering these results focuses on the delivery of sustainable infrastructure (water and sanitary systems, schools, housing), responding better to environmental risks and disasters, capital investment in measures to reduce diesel dependency and promoting energy efficiency.

Table 4.3. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, priorities for community and regional development, 2018-19


Priority actions

Indigenous communities advance their business development and economic growth

Entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) programmes, and improving procurement outcomes

● National Indigenous Economic Development Board and stakeholder engagement

● Supporting commercial and industrial projects, and oil and gas developments

● Local economic and community development initiatives

Indigenous and northern communities strengthen their capacity to adapt to changing environments

● Climate change adaptation measures

● Food and nutrition programmes in northern Canada

Land and resources in Indigenous communities and the north are sustainably managed

● Initiatives to reduce the dependency of remote communities in diesel power

● Regulatory reforms related to environmental assessments and oil and gas developments

● Environmental and resource management programmes

● Addressing contaminated lands and solid waste management

Source: Adapted from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs (2018[27]), 2018-19 Departmental Plan, (accessed on 24 January 2019).

These departments provide a range of initiatives and programmes that individually address key issues such as access to finance and business development support, improving regulatory frameworks related to land management and adapting to the impacts of climate change. However, they do not add up to a coherent long-term vision for economic development that has been developed in partnership with Indigenous peoples and articulates their values and aspirations for development. Embedded in these programmes, there are references to building partnerships with stakeholders and different levels of government but again there are no systemic measures to align federal, provincial and municipal planning and resource allocation decisions. Instead, the current approach is opportunistic and programme- or project-based. Another weakness of this approach is the lack of transparency about the cumulative impact of these programmes and the monitoring of socio-economic outcomes with Indigenous peoples.

Considerations for devising national policy frameworks for Indigenous economic development

The previous section has presented the national strategies and policy frameworks evaluating how they differ in levels of integration, recognition of local specificities, valuing of Indigenous culture and focus on outcomes. The following section summarises the lessons from them and provides examples of good practices.

Encouraging alignment of objectives across levels of government and sectors and encouraging co-operation to make use of synergies

The above section shows that strategies and policy frameworks increasingly address the complexity of Indigenous economic development by recognising the need for a whole-of-government approach. There is recognition that multiple policy sectors contribute to Indigenous economic development and strategies need to be co-designed with Indigenous stakeholders and institutions.

In Australia, Closing the Gap, set up by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), represents a joint effort between a range of Commonwealth ministries and all Australian governments. In 2017, COAG set up the Ministerial Council on Indigenous Affairs, which includes ministers from federal, state and territory governments and is contributing to the refresh on the Closing the Gap strategy. This collaborative approach recognises a weakness in the design of the first Closing the Gap framework, which lacked strong buy-in from state and territory governments.

Moreover, strategies can increase co-operation between sectors as well as government levels by defining specific co-ordination mechanisms. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Māori Development) have included a cross-agency plan in their update of the HKKAR strategy. The plan aims to build on existing programmes and services undertaken by agencies and provide more effective and efficient co-ordination to accelerate implementation. It also requires agencies to identify gaps in service provision and develop approaches for addressing these gaps.

Further mechanisms to address co-ordination that need to be taken into consideration when designing a strategy are discussed later in the chapter.

Avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach and incentivising policies that can easily be adjusted to local needs, characteristics and aspirations

The previous section has highlighted the importance of governments designing flexible policies that can be adapted to local needs. This is a difficult task, as it needs to balance providing concrete guidance without being overly prescriptive. Strategies can address this by highlighting that conditions vary across different regions and by identifying how policies and services can be adapted to these conditions. Australia’s Indigenous Economic Development Strategy, for instance, refers to the importance of geography in shaping employment opportunities, markets, services and infrastructure and the need to adjust policies accordingly.

As many countries are shifting towards a more place-based approach, they might still lack insights into the success factors that can mainstream this approach. In order to identify the crucial elements of a place-based approach for Indigenous economic development, pilot programmes can be an effective tool. In northern Ontario, a number of First Nation Communities take part in a Community Wellbeing Pilot Project to jointly test a new approach to community development focused on community-identified needs and priorities, which has been assessed positively (see Box 4.4). The challenge with these pilots is to translate them into systemic policy and governance reforms. These pilot initiatives need to have an evaluation framework, and feedback mechanisms should be established to mainstream the lessons from them (aspects of learning and feedback will also be discussed below).

Box 4.4. Pilot community well-being project

Supported by the Strategic Partnerships Initiative (SPI) (see Box 4.9) that emerged from the Canadian Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development, Indigenous Services Canada, launched a community well-being project with a group of disadvantaged First Nation communities in northern Ontario. It uses a holistic, place-based approach to community development. The process focuses on community-identified needs and priorities and requires government partners to step up their roles as developmental partners committing to joint development and implementation of community-specific action plans. A recent evaluation shows significant progress made in the areas of housing, skills and training, financial management and governance, and mental health and addictions. This addresses the core social challenges that have challenged economic development opportunities in the communities. Further, the assessment highlighted the following success factors of the approach:

  • Government as a neutral secretariat and facilitator.

  • Comprehensive community assessment is a starting point; based on these assessments there might be multiple options for early initiatives, depending to some extent on the strengths of the community, its own priorities and its institutional supports.

  • Place-based management approach – all of the players working collaboratively on community priorities.

  • A community development approach that is based on identifying and building on community assets rather than one focusing primarily on community deficits.

  • Producing “early wins” builds confidence in the process among partners.

  • Tackling challenges in governance and related management functions early on (i.e. organisational capacity) is very important for making progress on other priorities.

  • The need to have a lead senior official with proper skill set and experience to give communities the assurance that the government is serious and to lead interdepartmental and intergovernmental collaboration.

Important for advancing with the pilot is integrating its learnings into wider policymaking and linking it to other tools such as Comprehensive Community Planning (CCP) (discussed later in this chapter).

Source: Indigenous Services Canada (2018[28]), Community Wellbeing Project (Ring of Fire), Series on Indigenous Issues and Initiatives.

Respect and be mindful of history and the fact that Indigenous economic development might differ from non-Indigenous development objectives

The inclusion of Indigenous cultural values for economic development, including cultural assets and aspirations, is a challenge for most countries. He kai kei aku ringa – the Crown Māori Economic Growth Partnership – tries to address this, starting with the use of a Māori title that symbolises the resilience of Māori people. Further, it refers to language and culture as proving unique value and builds on whānau as the foundation of the Māori economy and culture. This means whānau is crucial in decision-making and delivering services. Moreover, it highlights the role of Māori Inc. (all actors who comprise the Māori contribution to the economy, including trusts and incorporations, small to medium-sized enterprises, iwi and collectives, self-employed Māori etc.), stressing aspects such as intergenerational sustainability and a focus on the collective good and longevity of economic activities.

Indigenous values and perspectives can only be incorporated if Indigenous peoples play an active role in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies. Often Indigenous peoples are consulted on their opinions and can give feedback selectively but are not involved in all aspects of the decisions taken and the identification of the preferred solution. Further, the OECD Guidelines (see Table 3.9, Chapter 3) on open and inclusive decision-making can serve as a first reference point for governments to improve these processes.

To create more transparency in and accountability on engaging Indigenous peoples for the design of the strategies’ methodologies, processes need to be made public and feedback openly accessible. Within the “Refresh” approach to the Closing the Gap strategy, Australia is moving towards a more transparent approach calling for open online feedback through a dedicated website. Submissions responding to the latest proposal are accessible online. Further, different rounds of consultation with peak Indigenous bodies have been held and a series of roundtables will be organised in each state to ensure the new draft reflects the feedback received in submission. Yet, it remains unclear how consultation participants are chosen and what the outcomes of the individual meetings are, as public reporting is limited.

Define short-, medium- and long-term measurable outcomes to enable learning and feedback

To ensure that strategies for Indigenous economic development are sound, robust and accountable, they also need to incorporate data and research. The previous section has highlighted that not all strategies, formalised learning and set goals and timelines allow for monitoring and evaluation. While nobody likes to be associated with failure, learning from failure is essential for improving policies. The establishment of a learning culture permits easier identification of barriers and bottlenecks that can be addressed in a second step, redefining and adjusting policy and programmes accordingly. Consequently, strategies need to:

  • Define measurable outcomes with an intervention logic that links them to policy levers.

  • Provide funding for context-specific data collection and analysis.

  • Have regular monitoring and communication of progress toward achieving outcomes.

  • Clarify accountabilities for outcomes.

  • Ensure learnings are translated into practice in a constant manner.

In 2018, the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet published a new Evaluation Framework for their policies and programmes. The framework is based on the principle that each policy intervention should articulate its intended impact, and its effectiveness measured on that basis. This means shifting from measuring inputs (the amount of resources dedicated to Indigenous economic development) and outputs (the amount of infrastructure or services delivered) to outcomes (impacts on agreed outcomes such as income and employment). The department has committed to annually publishing an evaluation work plan and the outcomes of evaluations. An Indigenous Evaluation Advisory Committee and an ethical framework that commits to collaboration and partnerships with Indigenous communities guides research. This framework provides a set of best practice principles for evaluation and mechanisms to make it operational (Figure 4.1).

Ensure inclusion in mainstream regional and rural development planning

Regional development policies generally focus on reducing disparities in economic activity between regions. In recent years, OECD countries have started to shift their regional economic development planning in ways that are more tailored to different types of regions and that facilitate “bottom-up” approaches to development (OECD, 2016[17]). Regional development plans and strategies do not include Indigenous people’s results in missed growth and development opportunities. This is especially the case when Indigenous peoples make up a large percentage of the population and hold rights to large portions of land. This lack of inclusion can emerge because of different institutional responsibilities and jurisdictional gaps.

Figure 4.1. Monitoring and evaluation in policy and feedback cycles in the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, Australia
Figure 4.1. Monitoring and evaluation in policy and feedback cycles in the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, Australia

Source: Australian Government (2018[29]), Indigenous Advancement Strategy Evaluation Framework, (accessed on 19 October 2018).

Lack of integration due to institutional separation

Many countries separate policymaking for Indigenous peoples from their mainstream policymaking. There may be good reasons for this, as Indigenous peoples often require policies that are specifically tailored to their needs and aspirations. At the same time, it can create a gap between mainstream and Indigenous targeted policies and exclude them from regional development plans. For example, in Australia, Regional Development Australia (RDA) is a national network of committees made up of local leaders who work with all levels of government, business and community groups to support the economic development of their regions. These committees play an important role in planning and facilitating regional economic development initiatives. However, the new Charter for Regional Development in Australia does not list Indigenous Australians among the stakeholders to engage (Regional Development Australia, 2017[30]).

In New Zealand, the inclusion of Māori in mainstream development plans and local decision-making is supported through several mechanisms. First, an evaluation of the Regional Growth Strategy specifically increases the need to engage with Māori and link its objectives to the Crown Māori Economic Growth Partnership, which has been set as a new goal in the E RERE (Oakden et al., 2017[15]). Second, the Local Government Act requires local councils to implement mechanisms for engagement into local decision-making processes and consulting (Local Government Act, 2002[31]) and has set up Te Matura, a sub-committee of the National Council of Local Governments, to promote increased representation of Māori as elected members of local government and enhancing participation in local government processes. This, in turn, can also contribute to better linking Māori economic development to mainstream policy development.

Jurisdictional gaps can create a lack of inclusion

In cases where Indigenous peoples fall into national responsibility, they are, therefore, excluded in state/province or regional level planning. This, for example, is a challenge in Canada and Sweden. In Sweden, many of the issues that affect the Sámi have not been regionalised and remain the responsibility of the national government. While the unique assets of the Sámi for northern development are generally recognised by regions, regional development policy sits with different bodies and there are limited incentives for the regional level to engage with the Sámi. The Swedish parliament has recently passed a bill to transfer the responsibilities of regional growth to county councils, corresponding to the regional level (with the exception of the County of Gotland). This will come into effect the 1st of January 2019. This shift presents an opportunity to better link the Sámi who live in this region with regional development efforts, which had been previously centralised (OECD, 2019[25]).

Box 4.5. Moving towards inclusion into regional development policy – Three examples

Sweden – Region Västerbotten Regional Development Strategy

Region Västerbotten’s regional development strategy (2014-20) defines the goals and prioritised strategies for investing in the future development of the region. Strengthening Sámi entrepreneurship in tourism is identified as a priority. The strategy recognises that reindeer husbandry and Sámi culture have the potential to enhance regional development but that these activities are also associated with land use conflict and cultural and historical contradictions. The strategy makes it clear that positive relations between Sámi and other stakeholders in all parts of the county are a prerequisite for effective development and outlines the following objectives:

  • Develop synergies between reindeer husbandry, Sámi culture and other entrepreneurs that use the land.

  • Create forms of co-operation and consensus between the reindeer herding industry and other stakeholders.

  • Promote research and education on reindeer husbandry as well as its impact on nature and cultural heritage, and conservation areas.

  • Promote knowledge building on sustainable development and gender equality.

  • Integrate reindeer husbandry into planning processes which impact the conditions for reindeer husbandry in Västerbotten.

  • Strengthen the reindeer herding industry in the face of climate change.

  • Develop sustainable forestry methods in collaboration with research and forestry industry.

New Zealand Regional Growth Program

The New Zealand Regional Growth Program (2014-17) stressed the need to work in partnership with iwi and the Māori. Further, its actions specify if a particular programme contributes to the He kai kei aku ringa – the Crown Māori Economic Growth Partnership (see above). At the same time, the latest evaluation of the Regional Growth Program established that links between the two strategies are still too weak. Thus, the increased enablement of iwi and Māori to participate in regional planning and implementation within the Regional Growth Programme was set as a new target. Further, Māori participation in regional economies progress will be measured. Measurements will be conducted through the Regional Growth Programme Evaluation Framework.

Northern Territory Australia Economic Development Framework

The 2017 Northern Territory Economic Development Framework identifies Aboriginal people as one of the unique advantages of the region, as Aboriginal People make up roughly 30% of the population and hold about 50% of the land mass. The framework specifies actions to be taken in the future and includes traditional owners as well as land councils as partners for implementation of actions. These actions include developing Indigenous arts and culture, creating opportunities for Indigenous-led tourism, strengthening community-based land management and allocating water reserves to Indigenous communities.

Sources: Oakden, J. et al. (2017[15])Evaluation of the Regional Growth Programme implementation and ways of working (accessed on 10 August 2018); Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (2017[32])The Regional Growth Program, Government of New Zealand; Te Puni Kōkiri (2017[24]), “Refreshing He Kai Kei Aku Ringa: The Crown-Māori economic growth partnership”,; Northern Territory Government (2017[33])Our Economic Future: Increasing Private Sector Investment to Grow Territory Jobs, (accessed on 31 August 2018); Region Västerbottens (2014[34])RUS 2014-2020 Regional Utvecklingsstrategi för Västerbottens, (accessed on 17 October 2018).

Financing for Indigenous peoples needs to be tailored and predictable

The structure of public financing also influences the coherence of policies for Indigenous economic development. Funding directed to Indigenous communities can be the responsibility of multiple agencies at the federal, state, provincial and local levels. This can result in the fragmentation of programmes and services at the local level. There may also be lack flexibility in how programmes and services are delivered. This makes it difficult and costlier for local communities to adapt and integrate different policies to align with their objectives and aspirations for development. Further, it can increase administrative costs, which can consume large funding shares, leaving only a smaller margin reaching local communities (Empowered Communities, 2015[35]).

Indigenous leaders often highlighted the need for more long-term block funding to increase the autonomy and predictability of financing (OECD – interviews fact finding missions to Australia and Canada). Fluctuating availability of financing through different programmes and projects can create a major obstacle to effective community planning and economic development (O’Faircheallaigh, 2018[36]). Different funding arrangements mean that contract management and reporting obligations take up a great deal of time and energy of both the funders and those receiving it. In Canada, the Federal Government and Assembly of First Nations are working toward a new fiscal relationship that is designed to address these issues (Box 4.6).

Box 4.6. Canada – New fiscal relationship with First Nations

In 2017, the Canadian Government and the Assembly of First Nations signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a new fiscal relationship. Following, joint working groups have been developing initial recommendations on a new fiscal relationship. These include:

  • Providing more funding flexibility to support effective and independent long-term planning. The Government of Canada is proposing to work with First Nations Financial Institutions and the Assembly of First Nations on the creation of ten-year grants for communities determined by First Nations institutions to be ready to move to such a system. Participating communities would commit to reporting to their own members on their priorities and targets and on a common set of outcomes outlined in an accountability framework. 

  • Replacing the default prevention and management policy with a new, proactive approach that supports capacity development. This approach would be based on current pilot projects, which are being conducted with the First Nations Financial Management Board. Earlier this year, the government also announced an additional CAD 24 million in each of fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19 for the Band Support Funding Program to assist First Nations that are in greatest need of local governance support.

  • Establishing a permanent Advisory Committee to provide further guidance and recommendations on a new fiscal relationship. Taking into account regional interests, the Committee would help shape strategic investments, propose options to address the sufficiency of funding, including a New Fiscal Policy model, and could co-develop an accountability framework supported by First Nations-led institutions. This would streamline reporting mechanisms and support First Nations in their primary responsibility of reporting to their citizens. It would also include an outcome-based framework aligned with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including key well-being and socio-economic markers to measure progress in closing gaps.

Source: Indigenous Services Canada (2018[37]), Establishing a New Fiscal Relationship, (accessed on 24 January 2019).

The challenge with more flexible funding is that it requires financial management and planning capacities within Indigenous communities and organisations. In order to address the needs of low-capacity communities and facilitate a shift towards more flexible financing, priority needs to be given to financial management training and organisational capacity building. This includes support to develop development of financial reporting systems, disbursement, procurement, audit and monitoring and evaluation in Indigenous communities that hold them accountable to the federal government as well as their community members. Greater transparency, collection, and communication of data on spending and progress of projects is a key tool in this context.

Greater flexibility also requires stronger planning frameworks. Through its Regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) in the United States works with Native American tribes to improve their planning frameworks. Funding and technical support are provided by the EDA to tribal organisations to complete these strategies that must include a process of community and stakeholder engagement and produce a regional economic development strategy that assesses local economic strengths and challenges, identifies priorities and develops a framework to evaluate success. These strategies can then be used to unlock funding from the EDA for local infrastructure, small business and technical support.

Funding and financing arrangements with Indigenous communities need to account for different levels of need and the costs of delivering services in rural remote areas (Table 4.4). Access to an appropriate set of public and private services is crucial for the quality of life of citizens and the competitiveness of firms. This makes service availability a central feature for improving community well-being. However, rural regions face a particular challenge in the form of relatively high costs of service delivery due to a number of factors. In the current context of tight fiscal budgets, discussions around how to deliver services in more cost-effective ways in rural areas have come to the forefront of the discussion in many OECD countries (OECD, 2010[38]).

Table 4.4. Factors affecting the cost of rural services


How it impacts service delivery costs


All forms of connectivity are scarcer and accessibility to rural areas more expensive. Transportation costs and overall costs to provide goods and services are higher in rural areas on a per capita basis.

Low population

It is difficult to achieve scale economies of production of goods and services including public services.

Low density

In rural regions people tend to be dispersed or even scattered across much of the territory, making connectivity harder to achieve.

Ageing population

As the population ages, the mix of services demanded changes; this may require new investments or outlays especially concerning healthcare.

Diminishing subsidies

Governments are cutting expenditures, which has an obvious impact on government services and costs.

Increasing diversity

Rural populations are becoming more diverse, representing a mix of residents historically rooted in the region (including Indigenous people), newly retired people, second home residents or newcomers who commute to a city for work. The result is a fragmenting of demand and a population where significant numbers of people choose to obtain goods and services away from the place where they live.

Few service providers

Choice is valuable. Too often rural service providers seek to exploit a local monopoly situation while paying little attention to actively marketing their own businesses or improving the quality of services that they provide.

Source: OECD (2016[17]), OECD Regional Outlook 2016: Productive Regions for Inclusive Societies,

Enhancing vertical and horizontal co-ordination

Various factors can contribute to co-ordination problems in the implementation of policies between levels of government and across different ministries and agencies. Previous studies undertaken by the OECD identify a number of common gaps that can occur in terms of multi-level governance arrangements, which are summarised in Table 4.5.

Table 4.5. Common gaps in co-ordination across levels of government



Instruments to address gaps

Administrative gaps

Mismatch between functional geographies and administrative boundaries

Need for instruments for reaching “effective size”

Policy gaps

Sectoral fragmentation across ministries and agencies

Need for mechanisms to create multidimensional approaches and to exercise shared political leadership

Capacity gaps

Lack of human, financial, knowledge (skill-based) or infrastructural resources between levels of government

Need for instruments to build capacity

Information gaps

Asymmetries of information (quantity, quality, type) between different stakeholders, either voluntary or not

Need for instruments for revealing and sharing information

Accountability gaps

Difficulty to ensure the transparency and integrity of practices across different constituencies

Need for institutional quality instruments

Source: Charbit, C. and M. Michalun (2009[39]), “Mind the Gaps: Managing Mutual Dependence in Relations among Levels of Government”,

The capacity to address these gaps and implement a place-based approach to Indigenous economic development is shaped by the framework conditions within which Indigenous communities and organisations operate. This includes legislative statutes, roles and responsibilities between levels of government and different portfolios, the administrative practices of different state agencies and programme rules and fiscal arrangements. This section of the chapter begins by providing an overview of the basic legal frameworks governing relationships between governments and Indigenous peoples. Following this overview, common co-ordination challenges across different ministries and between levels of government will be discussed.

Legal frameworks fundamentally define Indigenous identity, rights and policy actions

There are legal frameworks in each country that shape how Indigenous rights are defined and often which level of government has responsibilities for making laws for Indigenous peoples. In some cases, this exists in a state’s constitution, in others is also included in separate laws and treaties, sometimes going back hundreds of years. Sometimes these laws and their interpretation are contested. In such instances, it is often then left to the courts and evolving jurisprudence to refine these rights and update legislative frameworks. This framework legislation defines the parameters of action for public policies and also state obligations and relationships with Indigenous peoples.

National and state governments share responsibility for relationships with Aboriginal Australians – but there is no clear division of competencies

The role of the national government in Indigenous affairs is based on the 1967 amendment to the constitution, which removed the reference that barred the Commonwealth from making laws related to Aboriginal people. Following the amendment, the Commonwealth was able to legislate for Aboriginal people and this became an area of shared responsibility with the states. States that have historically managed relations with Indigenous peoples and retain significant areas of responsibility. States have primary responsibility for managing land in Australia and many established statutory land rights regimes for Indigenous peoples from the 1970s. States are also primarily responsible for the delivery of education and vocational training, health and local police services and the judicial system. While the national constitution does not directly refer to the Indigenous population, there have been recent amendments at the state level to recognise them in their constitutions.

Over the last 30 years, there has been a transformation in land rights for Indigenous peoples in Australia. Australia’s settlement by the British was based on the principle of “terra nullius” (empty land) so there was never a treaty governing the transfer of land at the time of settlement as was the case in Canada, New Zealand and the United States. An Aboriginal man, Eddie Mabo, challenged this concept through the courts and the High Court of Australia found in 1992 that customary Indigenous laws survived in cases where the Crown did not extinguish them. The adoption of the Native Title Act (1993) initiated the process of determining native title rights in Australia. As of June 30th, 2018 there were 428 registered determinations of Native Title (exclusive and non-exclusive) in Australia which constituted 37.8% of Australia’s land mass (Federal Court of Australia, 2018[40])

There is also state legislation that defines land rights in Australia. Shared responsibilities between the national and subnational governments regarding Indigenous policies means that co-ordination between levels of government is a key issue for Australia. Failures to co-ordinate to ensure coherence of policies can lead to fragmentation or duplication of policies or gaps in service provision. To co-ordinate amongst the different government levels, Australia has developed a Ministerial Council on Indigenous Affairs, which includes ministers from federal, state and territory governments to co-ordinate better on Indigenous issues. This entity works within the framework of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). COAG is the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia and its Ministerial Councils provide a forum for collaboration and decision-making on agreed priorities.

Canada’s framework legislation on Indigenous peoples is evolving – Redefining relationships with government

Constitutionally, the Federal Government of Canada is responsible for the relationship with all Indigenous peoples and the parliament has jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for Indians”. A 2016 court ruling about who is to be considered “Indian” has specified that this also includes Métis and other non-status Indians; this, however, remains contested (Vowel, 2016[41]). In practice, this often means that the federal government holds exclusive responsibility for Indians living on reserve while those living off the reserve fall under the general responsibility of the provinces. Provincial laws, generally, apply to all Aboriginals, off and on reserve, except if they conflict with treaty rights, federal legislation or provisions, laws or regulations made under the Indian Act (Library of Parliament, 2016[42]).

The Indian Act (1876) is the general statute governing registered Indians/First Nations and the reserves set aside for them. When it came into place, this shifted control to the federal government and dismantled traditional governance systems, imposing a governance structure prescribed by the state. Under the Indian Act, First Nation government decisions are subject to approval by the federal government including funding for reserve programmes and infrastructure and the leasing of land. Incrementally, “opt-outs” of the Indian Act have been introduced that allow for increasing self-governance including in areas such as social and economic development that are constitutionally protected as Aboriginal rights. For Métis and Inuit, who are not part of the Indian Act, self-governance options differ. Métis have started tripartite agreements towards self-governance, while the Inuit have negotiated land claim agreements, two of which contain self-government provisions (UN, 2013[43]).

Treaties are also used as an instrument to define Indigenous rights in Canada. The 1763 British Crown’s Royal Proclamation established First Nation governments as original landowners and required colonial authorities to negotiate treaties with them in order to settle in their territory (Penikett, 2012[44]). An amendment of Canada’s Constitution Act in 1982 recognised existing Aboriginal and treaty rights, and the provision for future negotiation. Indigenous people’s relationship with Canada is defined by a range of individual treaties that are concluded between First Nation and Inuit peoples and the Crown, and define rights and obligations on each side. Roughly 70 historic treaties were concluded across Canada with First Nations until 1975 and an additional 26 land claim agreements or “modern treaties” have been signed (Morin, 2018[45]). These treaties together with certain changes to the Indian Act has resulted in Indigenous peoples taking over jurisdiction over governance structures, membership, education, health and land use planning. This, however, can only exist with the consent of the federal government and in some cases provincial governments.

The constitutional division of responsibilities has established direct relationships between Indigenous communities and the federal government, bypassing provinces, territories and municipalities. In practice, this means, that different in standards in the provision of infrastructure maintenance and availability can exist between reserve lands that fall under the responsibility of the federal, provincial agencies, and surrounding municipalities. In other instances, a lack of institutional responsibilities creates regulatory gaps. This, for instance, is the case of environmental management in Canada as the Constitution Act, 1867 does not assign responsibility for environmental management to the federal or provincial governments, creating great obstacles for development on reserve land. Consequently, co-ordination on a regional scale between representatives of the federal government, provinces and territories as well as Indigenous peoples is key in Canada.

Sámi legislation in Sweden focuses on minority rights and reindeer herding – this, in turn, limits the purview of public policies for the Sámi

In Sweden, the Sámi are recognised as Indigenous people since 1977 as well as a national minority (1999), providing them with two kinds of protection and rights. As an Indigenous people, the Sámi enjoy specific innate rights under Swedish and international law, for instance with to regards land, water and self-determination (Swedish Equality Ombudsman, 2008[46]). The rights as an Indigenous people are largely linked to membership in a Sámi reindeer herding community (sameby), which only encompasses a minority of the people who identify as Sámi. The sameby members decide who to include in the community (see Chapter 3). This means that, in Sweden, important Indigenous rights are liked to specific livelihoods, which is restricted membership to sameby. This is limited to inheritance and constraints on the amount of land available for grazing. As a national minority, the Swedish Parliament has the obligation to strengthen their culture and language (Swedish Equality Ombudsman, 2008[46]). Further, in 2011, the Sámi were recognised in the Swedish Constitution as an Indigenous people.

In Sweden, responsibilities for Sámi matters are distributed across a range of ministries and national agencies (OECD, 2019[25]). The Sámi Parliament represents the interests of Sámi people in Sweden, delivers state programmes and liaises with different national ministries and state agencies as well as counties and municipalities on Sámi issues. When it comes to ministries, the Ministry of Culture has responsibility for the Sámi language and culture. The Sámi Parliament has responsibilities within these fields and reports to the Ministry of Culture. The health and education ministries have specific programmes and services for Sámi people. Business and economic development issues are the responsibility of the Ministry for Enterprise and Innovation. This includes policies related to fisheries, hunting and reindeer husbandry, and regional and rural development.

A key trend in the governance system of Sweden concerning regional development is strengthening the role of the elected county councils at the regional level (OECD, 2017[47]). County Councils are taking on responsibilities related to regional development from national agencies. This shift means that mechanisms are needed to ensure the Sámi have a voice and the capacity to meaningfully engage with the regional level on economic development issues.

New Zealand are putting the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Titiri o Waitangi at the centre of all relations with Māori – but are vulnerable to political discretion

In New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) defines the Māori-Government relationship and is understood as one of the countries founding documents. As the treaty itself is unenforceable, it has to be given effect by statute and gains its legal significance from that (Parliamentary Library, 2005[48]). Today, about 30 acts require decision-makers in New Zealand to incorporate the principles of the treaty into decision-making. Further, courts have determined that the treaty is a key consideration for all government legislation. This has resulted in the inclusion of Māori rights into legislation. For instance, the Māori Language Act (1987) made Māori an official language of New Zealand and established the Māori Language Commission. The Māori Land Act (1993) promotes Māori rights to land, encourages the retention of land and provides mechanisms to facilitate land development, making statutory reverence to Māori cultural concepts (Luxton, 1996[49]). The Māori Representation Act (1867) also established specifically allocated seats to Māori, which now constitutes seven seats in the national assembly.

Very prominent in the interpretation of the treaty is the New Zealand Māori Council vs. Attorney-General case that defined the principles of the treaty in 1987. The defining principles are “partnership”, describing mutual respect, co-operation and good faith of the two parties; “active protection”, requiring the government to protect Māori interest in certain situations, and “redress”, requiring the government to redress breaches of the treaty. In the past, the treaty was regularly broken; however, its principles today are considered in the development of all policy and legislation. Yet, the treaty cannot be used to repeal or invalidate legislation, causing Māori representatives to express that their rights are too vulnerable to political discretion (United Nations Human Rights Council, 2015[50]).

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Māori Development is responsible for government policy towards Māori. As all policies are to be inclusive of Māori, it needs to co-ordinate with other ministries on aspects of their portfolio that affect Māori. It runs its own programmes through a range of regional offices. New Zealand is a unitary country and subnational elected authorities operate under national legislation. Therefore, some of the jurisdictional issues faced by Australia, Canada and the United States are not as much of a challenge in New Zealand. The national government has used legislation to support the participation of Māori in local decision-making. For example, the New Zealand Local Government Act (2002) requires local governments to improve opportunities for Māori to contribute to local decision-making.

In the United States, Indigenous relations are with the national government and state governments simultaneously

The Constitution of the United States of America (1787) states that congress has the power to “Regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states and with the Indian Tribes”, which clearly defines federal competency over Indian affairs. Further, a historical 19th-century United States Supreme Court ruling establishes that Indian tribes are inherently sovereign, holding powers of self-government as they are “nations” with original rights to their ancestral lands. These sovereign rights are considered subordinate to the authority of the constitution of the United States (UN, 2012[51]). This way, federal powers override the sovereignty of the land and property of Indian Tribes in a way that is justified by a protective duty, called “trusteeship”. The federal government mandates tribal consultation on many issues but has plenary powers over Indigenous nations. American Indians in the United States are generally American citizens as well as of their own nations (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2018[52]).

The United States presently recognises and maintains government-to-government relations with 566 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages in old and new agreements. Between 1778 and 1871, the federal government concluded 370 treaties with various Indian tribes. They have the same status as treaties with foreign nations and take precedence over conflicting state law. Each treaty has its own terms and provisions, but generally contains guarantees of peace, provision of land boundaries, hunting and fishing rights, tribal recognition of US authority and US protection (National Congress of American Indians, n.d.[53]). As sovereign nations American Indian and Alaska Native tribes have authority over tribal members. Native Hawaiians do not have a similar status as well as other people that identify as Indigenous at the national level while some have received recognition at the state level (UN, 2012[51]). From the 1970s, more self-determination for Indian tribes has been defined through individual acts in specific areas that range from protection of Indigenous religion and culture to Indian economic and natural resource development, education and civil rights (UN, 2012[51]).

Entities with residual sovereignty tribes are often less integrated into the federal system and their relationships to states are sometimes unclear, leading to overlapping or competing areas of jurisdiction. To address this issue, states and tribes have developed intergovernmental agreements and compacts. These include gambling operations, management of water and other resources, child welfare, taxation and the administration of justice (Papillon, 2012[54]).

Horizontal co-ordination gaps at the national level

Responsibility for Indigenous issues at the national level can be centralised or distributed across multiple ministries and agencies. Horizontal co-ordination is important at the national level because it can help ensure the integration of Indigenous issues into other sectoral ministries (e.g. education, health and environment). Each model is prone to co-ordination challenges, particularly in terms of policy, accountability and informational gaps.

Centralised institutional setups

Most of the countries studied have a centralised approach to Indigenous policymaking. This means they have established designated ministries or departments that are responsible for Indigenous affairs and lead on this subject matter, for instance, the U.S. Department of the Interior with the Bureau for Indian Affairs or the Department for Indigenous Services Canada and the Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Development Canada. In Australia, Indigenous Affairs is located in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Table 4.6. National ministries and regional offices


Responsible ministry

Regional office


Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Indigenous Affairs

33 Indigenous Affairs Regional Network, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Regional Offices


Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada

Indigenous Services Canada

11 Regional Offices of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

New Zealand

All ministries, advised and complemented by the Ministry for Māori Development (Te Puni Kōkiri)

18 Te Puni Kōkiri Regional Offices


Not one designated ministry.

Ministry of Culture recognised as lead ministry, further involved Education and Research, Enterprise and Innovation, Environment and Energy as well as Justice.

Sámi Parliament reports to the Ministry of Culture and has purview on matters concerning hunting and fishing, reindeer herding, Sámi language and culture. It liaises with other ministries on the matters concerning the Sámi.

County Administrative Boards (deconcentrated agencies of the national government in each county)

United States

U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau for Indian Affairs: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indian Health Service.

12 regional offices and 83 agencies that report to the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Indian Health Services with facilities in 12 areas

Ministries with responsibilities for Indigenous peoples often implement their policies and programmes through regional representation. This way regional offices act as an interlocutor between the national government and Indigenous communities. If regional offices do not share their local knowledge of what is happening “on the ground” with policy and analytical staff in headquarters, then information deficits occur. This then leads to policies designed at a national level that do not correspond to local needs and preferences. Hence, sufficient communication channels need to be put in place to ensure local knowledge can travel upwards and is utilised to inform decision-making. Our interviews revealed that often information sharing on the operational level works well, but that management levels are not sufficiently involved and can lack understanding of the situation on the ground.

This centralised approach with deconcentrated regional offices allows governments to tailor policies and build relationships with communities, as the point of contact is clear. At the same time, it gives rise to the danger of operating in silos and separating mainstream policymaking from Indigenous issues. As a result, it can create policy gaps as well as information gaps between ministries responsible for Indigenous peoples and those delivering mainstream policy. This, for instance, can lead to the fact that Indigenous peoples are not integrated into regional development strategies and governance arrangements.

Distributed institutional setups

In some countries, responsibility for Indigenous affairs is distributed across a number of ministries. In Sweden, for instance, the Ministry of Culture has the primary responsibility for Sámi affairs on representative and cultural issues, but the Ministries of Education and Research, Enterprise and Innovation, Environment and Energy as well as Justice also lead on different policies directly affecting the Sámi (OECD, 2019[25]). In Sweden, ministries operate on a joint decision-making principle and this helps facilitate the inclusion of Sámi issues in mainstream policies. However, there is no single agency acting as an advocate for Sámi issues or providing a coherent whole-of-government view on Sámi society. The Sámi Parliament, as a government agency and elected representative of the Sámi people, does play an important role in advocating for Sámi interests, liaising between ministries of Sámi matters and bridging information gaps or silos. However, the large amount of issues that touch upon Sámi issues and the fragmentation across ministries makes it difficult for the Sámi Parliament to fulfil this role. The parliament is a relatively small institution that does not always have the capacity to engage with a large variety of ministries on all the policies potentially affecting the Sámi people (OECD, 2019[25]).

Mixing the two approaches

New Zealand mixes the two approaches. In New Zealand, for instance, the Ministry for Māori Development (Te Puni Kōkiri) provides a whole-of-government leadership role and liaises with all other ministries and agencies to ensure contribution toward better outcomes for the Māori. In New Zealand, all national ministers are responsible to contribute towards successful Māori outcomes, provide mainstream services that are responsive to Māori as well as another part of the population and provide services that cater specifically to Indigenous needs. Te Puni Kōkiri has an important co-ordination role within the government. For instance, it co-ordinates the Māori Economic Development Partnership Strategy with the Ministry of Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Co-ordination gaps between levels of government

The system of government within countries (unitary or federal) and the allocation of constitutional responsibilities can result in different responsibilities for national and subnational governments in regards to Indigenous issues. Regardless of these responsibilities, subnational governments do have a critical role to play in linking Indigenous communities with regional and rural development efforts.

Table 4.7. Responsibilities for Indigenous issues between levels of government


Type of government

Subnational responsibilities for Indigenous peoples


Federation; Subnational governments: 8 states, 562 municipalities.

State and territory governments take some responsibilities; all have departments or agencies devoted to Indigenous peoples.


Federation; 13 states/regions and 3 959 municipalities.

Indian reserves, Indian settlements and unorganised territories (1 203 entities in 2017) as well as special purpose entities, such as school boards, are excluded from the count.

Provinces and territories have no official responsibility. Provincial and territory laws and regulations apply to Aboriginals off-reserve and almost all have departments or agencies devoted to maintaining a relationship with the Indigenous residents.

New Zealand

Unitary country, 11 states, 67 municipalities.

There is also a structured sub-municipal level (131 community and local boards)

No specific responsibility Ideally reflected in mainstream responsibilities of local governments. Some councils have Māori offices.


Unitary country, 20 county councils, 290 municipalities (one acting as a county council as well). The 20 county councils and one municipality with the responsibility of a county council have additional responsibilities, such as regional development.

No specific responsibility. Ideally, reflected in mainstream responsibilities of counties and municipalities.

United States

Federation; 50 states, 3 031 intermediary level, 35 879 municipal level.

Most states have an office or department for Indian Affairs.

Source: Own elaboration; OECD (2018[55]), Subnational Governments in OECD Countries: Key Data, (accessed on 17 May 2018).

Information gaps with subnational governments

Information exchange is a key effective co-operation amongst stakeholders. Each level of government has individually valuable knowledge. Local governments have knowledge specific to places and can play an important role in terms of community planning and co-ordinating programmes and projects at the local level. National governments play an important role in managing information and linking it to broader frameworks and can encourage the sharing of best practices. Thus, sharing information between levels of government need to go both ways, bottom-up as well as top-down (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[39]).

Additional information asymmetry can occur when subnational governments are bypassed in information sharing between regional offices and their national ministries or departments responsible for Indigenous affairs. This can easily happen in cases where jurisdictional responsibilities lie primarily with the national governments and there are weak links with subnational level governments. A lack of inclusion on Indigenous affairs in subnational governments can cause a mismatch in policy objectives between government levels and discourage subnational governments to engage locally with Indigenous issues. This increases the risk of programme or service duplication and often creates confusion and uncertainty for local stakeholders.

Interviews further demonstrated that information exchange often occurs in informal ways and ad hoc responding to specific challenges (OECD – interviews on fact-finding missions to Australia, Canada and Sweden). This can provide an opportunity to build communication, dialogue and establish networks (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[39]). On the downside, informal exchanges often depend on individual leadership and dedication and are vulnerable to changes of individuals involved. Further, these informal co-ordination mechanisms reduce transparency and accountability of decisions and outcomes and can limit access of outsiders.

Administrative gaps

Regional information gaps in Indigenous issues often coincide with administrative gaps. Administrative gaps occur when administrative borders and functional economic areas at the subnational level do not correspond to each other (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[39]). This can occur in some jurisdictions between Indigenous reserves and adjacent municipalities. Functionally, these territories are integrated (e.g. a common labour market) but often they are administered in isolation by different levels of government (national, subnational and Indigenous). A lack of co-operation between different levels of government results in missed opportunities to co-ordinate infrastructure and services, and generate economies of scale.

In Canada, the strengthening of governance relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations at the local level can have a powerful impact. For instance, a lack of co-ordination at the local level is a common source of conflict arising from diverging community objectives and cross-border land use impacts such as noise, smell, light, traffic, etc. Meanwhile, successful co-ordination can create or support joint economic development opportunities and more liveable communities overall (Nelles and Alcantara, 2013[56]). Creating scale through regional co-operation, therefore, remains a priority for achieving better Indigenous economic development outcomes.

Capacity gaps

Capacity gaps occur when levels of government lack human, knowledge or infrastructure resources to carry out the task (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[39]). Interviews revealed that common capacity gaps in public administration related to Indigenous economic development were cross-cultural competencies, brokering and facilitation skills, stakeholder engagement and business expertise (OECD interviews – fact finding missions to Australia, Canada and Sweden). In the context of Indigenous economic development, regional offices of the national Indigenous Affairs Agency in Australia are currently transitioning from programme managers to brokers and enablers of Indigenous economic development. This transition has generated mismatches in skills and capabilities. Regional office staff lack the diversity and depth of capacities to assume new these new responsibilities. This will require building skills related to complex problem solving, stakeholder management and business development.

Addressing horizontal and vertical co-ordination gaps

Governments use different instruments to address horizontal and vertical co-ordination gaps, which affect the alignment and coherence of policies at the regional and local levels. This section of the study examines five instruments used by governments to address these gaps: institutional mapping to clarify roles and responsibilities; establishing agencies responsible for whole-of-government co-ordination; establishing co-ordinating bodies between levels of government; building the brokering and facilitating capabilities of regional offices; and contracts and agreements to build scale.

Institutional mapping to clarify responsibilities and roles of actors involved

Indigenous policymaking is highly complex, especially in federal countries, and involves a large amount of public and non-public actors. In order to avoid duplication or fragmentation of programmes or services roles and responsibilities between levels of governments and sectors need to be clarified and exchange of objectives and information strengthened.

Institutional maps can be an important tool to improve the understanding of responsibilities and actors involved in Indigenous economic development at different levels of government. It can help to demonstrate their roles and functional relations and depict where and how information is shared (OECD, 2018[57]). The example below illustrates the multi-level governance relationships in Sweden (Figure 4.2). Sometimes maps also need to be reduced in their complexity to be meaningful. This can be done by limiting the depiction to one specific aspect of policymaking or geographical region. Figure 4.3, for instance, focuses on the institutional relationships between different actors in the state of Alaska that are responsible for Indigenous economic development and land management.

Figure 4.2. Multi-level governance in Sweden from 1 January 2019
Figure 4.2. Multi-level governance in Sweden from 1 January 2019

Source: OECD (2019[25]), “Linking the Sami with regional and rural development policies and programmes”,

Graphic illustration often facilitates the identification of gaps for co-operation and information sharing. They can also specify types of relationships (subordination, co-operation, representation) vertically and show where systems are not integrated horizontally (OECD, 2018[57]). For instance, it can help illustrate if departments are prone to work in silos or if links between regional national offices, municipalities and Indigenous communities are missing.

Figure 4.3. Institutional Map – Indigenous economic development/land management Alaska
Figure 4.3. Institutional Map – Indigenous economic development/land management Alaska


Box 4.7. Mapping of service providers for remote Indigenous communities

In Australia, service provision is outsourced to individual providers that bid for government tenders. The regional Indigenous Affairs office (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet) responsible for the Dampier Peninsular Region in the North of Western Australia observed that service provision for the rural Aboriginal communities living on the peninsula is unstructured and often confusing to recipients. To find a solution, the office mapped out all service providers serving the region and is currently developing an online platform that allows co-ordination between providers and publishes operating schedules.

Source: Authors elaboration based on interviews on OECD fact finding mission to Australia in July 2018.

Creating agencies responsible for whole-of-government and portfolio co-ordination

Central units or agencies responsible for co-ordinating Indigenous affairs can be vital to ensure that all other ministries or agencies contribute towards better outcomes for Indigenous peoples. Prominent examples at the national level are the Ministry of Māori Development and the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Indigenous Affairs. Both are responsible for whole-of-government co-ordination with ministries responsible for Indigenous outcomes in different sectors such as health, education, employment, etc. Other central units can exist within national ministries on specific sectors, such as the Office for Native American Business Development situated in the U.S. Department of Commerce. The office takes on co-ordination roles within the department as well as with tribes and other federal agencies (Box 4.8). Further, in federal countries, states, territories or provinces often also have a designated Indigenous affairs department. These agencies and officers can help transmit a coherent vision across ministries and agencies and facilitate the identification of complementarities. Further, it allows for a single face of government. This can facilitate the co-ordination with Indigenous representatives and increase accountability.

Box 4.8. United States Department of Commerce, Senior Advisor on Native American Affairs

The United States Department of Commerce has a range of resources and tools to support Indigenous economic development. This includes grants related to broadband infrastructure, data resources, market development assistance and business and entrepreneurship programmes through the Economic Development Administration. The department has established a central unit in the Office of the Secretary to support a co-ordinated approach across the Department of Commerce and with different federal government agencies. The Office of the Secretary’s Senior Advisor on Native American Affairs is responsible for:

  • Co-ordinating and communicating all Native American issues directly with tribes and across all the bureaus within the Department of Commerce as well as externally with all other federal agencies.

  • Co-ordinating and implementing the department’s Tribal Consultation Policy Plan and consultation sessions.

  • Serving as the primary contact for all tribal consultation actions and issues.

  • Serving as the facilitator of the Office of Native American Business Development by assisting and consulting with Indian Country in leveraging the combined efforts of the federal programmes, tribal governments, private sector businesses and financing in order to promote economic growth for tribes and Native Americans.

Source: (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2019[58])

However, having such a co-ordinating agency does not guarantee better alignment of policies and programmes at the local level. The unit also needs to be equipped with sufficient resources and legitimacy to be able to take influence on other ministries. Agencies and offices responsible for Indigenous affairs situated directly within central agencies such as the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in the Commonwealth of Australia or Aboriginal Affairs within the Department of Premier and Cabinet in the State Victoria, Australia, can help ensure that Indigenous issues are a priority for other ministries. The downside of these central agencies is that they often do not necessarily have the capabilities, experience, and operational capacity to deliver programmes and services. Therefore, effective ways to build these capabilities and develop mechanisms to link with the local level are crucial for its success. The sub-sections below, “Building brokering capacities of regional offices” and “Contracts and agreements to reach effective size”, expand on this point.

Permanent and project-based co-ordinating bodies between levels of government and different sectors

Co-ordinating bodies are important for distributing information, fostering exchange, sharing lessons and realising projects that cut across constituencies. They also help align priorities, interests and timing (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[39]). Co-ordination bodies come in different forms including, working groups, committees, boards, councils or dialogue fora and operate vertically as well as horizontally. Co-ordination bodies can help promote co-operation and collaboration among and between levels of government and across different sectors (public, private and not-for-profit). A good example is the Australian Ministerial Council on Indigenous Affairs established under the COAG framework, which has already been discussed.

Other co-ordination bodies are set-in-place with a specific project focus. For instance, the Canadian SPI specifically addresses horizontal co-ordination challenges and provides a co-ordinated response specific to existing and emerging Indigenous economic development opportunities (see Box 4.9). It facilitates economic development collaboration among multiple federal departments and agencies, provinces and the private sector, and Indigenous organisations and businesses (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, 2014[59]). At the local level in Australia, the City Deals Program aims for greater collaboration across governments and the private sector including the Commonwealth, a state or territory government, and local governments to enhance the liveability of cities. This also includes a focus on enhancing business opportunities for Indigenous Australians through public procurement. The first City Deal, in Townsville, created new opportunities for local Indigenous people through employment and procurement targets linked to the construction of the AUD 240 million North Queensland Stadium (Australian Government, n.d.[60]).

Building brokering capacities of regional offices

Regional offices need to build capacities in multi-level multi-stakeholder management to function as enablers of economic development. Situated between the national and subnational government levels as well as Indigenous communities, they are in a crucial position to link Indigenous peoples to the resources and information they need and encourage co-operation between Indigenous peoples and different government levels. Further, they can make sure the right decision makers are involved and can support in navigating the bureaucracy.

The role of national governments, in this context, is to support capacity building in regional offices. This should include a focus on Indigenous economic development and business development as well as in building skills such as communication, networking, facilitation and negotiation. For an elaborate list of qualities required of good brokers, see Box 4.17. Capacity building should be in line with goals set in the general Indigenous economic development strategy (if one exists). These should include a list of capacities required and allocate financial support that can finance the right human resource management tools to prepare staff to take on new responsibilities. This includes hiring new staff that can add to the knowledge pool and training current staff to transition to new responsibilities.

Box 4.9. Strategic Partnerships Initiative (SPI) – Canada

Initiated in 2010, the SPI provides a whole-of-government, collaborative approach to address gaps in existing Indigenous economic development programmes. It enables federal partners to strategically engage other governments and private sector partners to leverage additional funding in support of Indigenous participation in complex economic development projects.

With an annual budget of CAD 14.5 million, the SPI works in partnership with interested Indigenous stakeholders, provincial and territorial governments and the private sector to target federal investments from across departments in a broad range of economic development opportunities across various sectors of the Canadian economy such as mining, fisheries, forestry, agriculture, tourism and energy.

Currently, 17 federal agencies and departments are part of the programme that is organised by a secretariat that supports the Director-General of the Investment Committee (DGIC). The DGIC includes membership from all SPI signatory departments. It makes final funding decisions on initiatives and validates and prioritises opportunities for investments. It also identifies relevant federal government departments that have a lead role to play in supporting any given initiative and ensures that they work together with Indigenous groups to advance these opportunities. It also enables federal partners to strategically engage other levels of government and private sector partners so they may leverage additional funding or in-kind support. The DGIC completes a review of detailed proposals from federal departments on opportunities for consideration under the programme.

Source: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (2014[59]), Evaluation of Aboriginal Economic Development Strategic Partnerships Initiative, (accessed on 16 October 2018).

Contracts and agreements to reach effective size

Regional agreements between governments and Indigenous communities can be used to achieve economies of scale, manage common issues and achieve cost savings. They may cover issues such as service provision, land use planning and infrastructure maintenance. The greatest strength of these regional agreements is that they address multiple gaps at once. Not only do they help bridge administrative gaps but they also foster information exchange, can increase accountability by clarifying roles and build capacities of network management with participating actors.

Canadian research points towards two critical determination factors for the development of partnerships with Indigenous peoples. First, the capacity of actors to enter into arrangements and second, the willingness to do so. Capacity refers to the structures that govern Indigenous peoples as well as the resources at their disposal and willingness, and the degree to which actors make use of their capacities. This means that even where actors are not constrained by rules or resources, the emergence of co-operation is not evident. Consequently, when aiming to facilitate co-operation, it is important to consider the factors that affect political will, for instance, in terms of sacrificing some degree of local autonomy to shared action (Nelles and Alcantara, 2013[56]).

Further, research on relationships between Indigenous communities and municipalities in Canada finds that, over time, there has been a shift from service-provision agreements towards more collaborative, co-operative and sometimes decolonising, horizontal and multilevel governance partnerships (Nelles and Alcantara, 2013[56]). This means that agreements move from contracts that define paying a yearly fee to the municipality in exchange for the provision of a service such as garbage collection or snow removal, towards establishing more co-operative relationships in a formalised way. Typically, these agreements included a set of common principles, such as mutual recognition and respect, and a commitment to communicate and/or meet regularly to discuss issues of common concern. In certain instances, including attempts to “decolonise relationships” through establishing more just and equal relationships (Nelles and Alcantara, 2011[61]). Two examples of successful multi-level governance agreements to build partnerships and create scale are outlined below (Box 4.10).

Box 4.10. Examples of regional co-operation with Indigenous peoples from Canada and New Zealand

The Mi'kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum, Canada

In Nova Scotia, a collaborative governance model exists called the Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia- Canada Tripartite Forum ( This forum was formed in 1997 as a partnership between the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq, the Province of Nova Scotia and the Government of Canada, to strengthen relationships and to resolve issues of mutual concern affecting Mi'kmaw communities. To achieve its work, the Tripartite Forum relies on the efforts of a number of steering committees and working groups. The list includes: an executive committee; an officials committee; a steering committee; working committees which address a number of key topics such as culture and heritage, economic development, education, health, justice, social, and sport and recreation. Each level has representation from each of the three parties: the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq, the Province of Nova Scotia and the Government of Canada. All parties agree to work together without prejudice and by consensus to discuss and resolve issues of mutual concern. The Tripartite Forum is jointly funded by Indigenous Services Canada and the Nova Scotia Office of Aboriginal Affairs.

The Economic Development Working Group includes Federal economic development and Indigenous affairs agencies, provincial departments and a number of different Mi’kmaw organisations. Each year the working group develops a work plan and is required to submit year-end reports to the steering committee identifying the activities completed or underway. The focus of the work plan in 2017-18 was Indigenous tourism development, addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, increasing access to procurement and supply chain opportunities both within Indigenous communities and the private sector and increasing the capacity of Indigenous communities to undertake business planning and proposal writing.

Manawatū-Whanganui Economic Action Plan

In New Zealand, most regions have an economic action plan which may outline the role of Māori and the local Māori economy in achieving the region’s development objectives. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, collaboration has enhanced outcomes in the Māori economy in the Manawatū-Whanganui region through regional alliances between iwi, industry, councils, marae and government. They are also creating broader institutional arrangements to formalise these networks and work better with the government.

An Economic Action Plan Te Pae Tawhiti was developed, by business leaders, iwi, hapū, and councils in partnership with the central government with the assistance of a university. The plan is based on economic analysis, consultation data and best practice research and incorporates the ideas, priorities and aspirations that Māori people for economic growth and is underpinned by concepts of autonomy and self-management. It recognises the importance of regional alliances between iwi, industry, councils and government, and that succeeding in the global marketplace will require alliances that deliver economies of scale, collective value and impact. It is building various institutional arrangements considered important to sustain the strategy including:

  • An alliance of all iwi in the region, irrespective of Treaty settlement status, to provide direction and leadership.

  • A subsidiary company or companies which actively co-invests in and develops Māori commercial ventures.

Sources: Mi'kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum website (2018) (Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum, 2019[62]) (accessed 28 March 2019); Horizons Regional Council (2016[63]), Te Pae Tawhiti - Manawatū-Whanganui Māori Economic Development Strategy, (accessed on 22 October 2018).

Strengthening relationships through participation in decision-making

This section highlights the need for higher levels of participation Indigenous peoples in decision-making, points out government programmes that seek to empower Indigenous peoples and stresses the need for cultural capacity building in public institutions. There are different forms of engagement ranging from one-way information sharing to full decision-making power for Indigenous peoples.

Importance of participation in decision-making

Citizen participation in policymaking can have two significant benefits. First, it can improve the quality of policies, laws and services as it incorporates knowledge and feedback from people who will be impacted by them. Second, it improves the policymaking process, making it more transparent, inclusive, legitimate and accountable, building trust in government (OECD, 2016[22]). An integral element of countries’ moving towards a place-based approach for Indigenous economic development is making greater use of local knowledge through partnerships and engagement with Indigenous peoples. This also supports the UNDRIP, which includes a statement that states shall co-operate in good faith with Indigenous peoples before adopting and implementing measures that may affect them. Yet, significant challenges still exist in how Indigenous peoples participate in decision-making, leading to mismatches between the needs of Indigenous communities and the services and programmes they receive.

In 2017, the OECD Council recognised the need for a culture of governance that promotes the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth. It recommends that adherents should:

“grant all stakeholders equal and fair opportunities to be informed and consulted and actively engage them in all phases of the policy-cycle and service design and delivery. This should be done with adequate time and at minimal cost, while avoiding duplication to minimise consultation fatigue. Further, specific efforts should be dedicated to reaching out to the most relevant, vulnerable, underrepresented or marginalised groups in society, while avoiding undue influence and policy capture.” (OECD, 2017[64])

These OECD recommendations build on fundamental research on citizen engagement. Citizen engagement can be characterised along the “ladder of citizen participation” developed by Arnstein (1969). The ladder specifies different rungs indicating the degree of participation, from non-participation to some degree of participation, for instance through information or consultation to opportunities for exerting agency though making decisions in partnerships, delegated power or citizen control (Arnstein, 1969[65]). Later, the ladder was revised by the International Association for Public Participation and can serve as a tool to understand different levels of Indigenous engagement as well as its challenges.

The below table has been adapted to show how participation of Indigenous peoples in decision-making can occur at different levels. They range from one-way information processes, over more comprehensive levels in which decision is taken collaboratively, to a situation where Indigenous peoples have the sole decision-making power.

Table 4.8. IAP2’s Public Participation Spectrum adapted for Indigenous peoples






Public Participation Goal

To provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problem, alternatives, opportunities and/or solutions.

To obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions.

To work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered.

To partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.

To place the final decision-making in the hands of the public.

Application to the Indigenous context

One-way relationship, Indigenous peoples are informed on new policies or developments.

Two-way relationship, Indigenous peoples are invited to present their opinion on specific topics but no obligation to take views into consideration in the final outcome.

Indigenous peoples are involved in all aspects of the policy circle, their input is reflected and considered in the final output.

Indigenous peoples, share the decision-making power with non-Indigenous counterparts through memoranda of understanding or joint-management agreements.

Indigenous peoples have full decision-making power over a certain service or matter.

Source: IAP2 Federation (2019[66])IAP2’s Public Participation Spectrum (accessed on 24 January 2019).

Limited representation, low levels of participation and inconsistent legal frameworks

Programmes and initiatives for Indigenous peoples have historically been delivered in a top-down way through sectoral ministries lacking the involvement of Indigenous peoples in decision-making and policy design (Head, 2007[67]). In the process of shifting towards an approach based on self-determination meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples and its impact on decision-making, outcomes vary from case to case. Indigenous people are often in the minority and often have limited political representation in parliaments and other representative bodies, making it easy for majority-based decision-making to override their interest (United Nations Human Rights Council, 2015[50]; Morden, 2017[68]; Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2014[69]). Consequently, mechanisms to include Indigenous peoples in decision-making are needed to ensure the rights of Indigenous peoples are respected and their interests are translated into policymaking.

Low levels of engagement are often less successful because Indigenous people do not have the feeling of being able to make a difference. This bears the danger of trust erosion and consultation fatigue as central decision-making is reinforced (Hunt, 2013[70]). Enforceable obligations to consult can be an effective tool to ensure that participation processes are undertaken and can provide clarity on procedures. In many instances, however, legal requirements for engagements suffer from loopholes and ambiguities (UN, 2012[51]). Especially, the quality and process definition of engagements vary greatly as they are often linked to political interpretation. This means that mechanisms for Indigenous participation are often unclear and that processes largely depended on the issue they deal with (e.g. the sectors they address) or the location in which they are situated (e.g. in which constituency is responsible).

Protocols for engaging with Indigenous peoples

High levels of engagement, at the right side of the spectrum, have been assessed as being particularly important for complex and difficult problems (Head, 2007[67]; Hunt, 2013[70]; Saxena, 2011[71]). This means providing Indigenous people with the opportunity to make decisions in the policymaking process, including the definition of the problem, the development of policies, as well as implementation and evaluation of outcomes (Hunt, 2013[70]). Hence, involving them in every step of the policy circle.

Figure 4.4. The different stages of the policy cycle
Figure 4.4. The different stages of the policy cycle

Source: OECD (2016[22]), Open Government - The Global Context and the Way Forward,

Both Canada and Sweden are currently working on new protocols for engagement. In Sweden, the Ministry of Culture is presently working on an act on consultation that will outline the duty of the government and agencies to consult with the Sámi Parliament, sameby and other Sámi organisations on matters outlined in the act. It is anticipated that these guidelines will help to bring more rigour and consistency to the process that has for now been treated differently in sectoral legislation and varied in quality. In Canada, due to jurisdiction differences between federal and subnational governments, consultation procedures with Indigenous peoples often differ between national, provincial and municipal levels. While the Canadian Supreme Court recognised the Crown's constitutional duty to consult and requires the federal, provincial and territorial governments to consult when their decisions might impact Indigenous peoples or treaty rights, implementation has been uneven. To address this, the government of Canada is currently reviewing their processes and is aiming to renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples including its 2011 Guidelines for Federal Officials to Fulfill the Duty to Consult. The 2016 report Building Relationships and Advancing Reconciliation through Meaningful Consultation, stresses the need to clarify what engagement means and includes how to set up meaningful co-operation (Gray, 2016[72]).

In the case of Canada, some Indigenous groups have started to develop their own consultation protocols and have signed individual agreements with the federal or provincial governments (see Box 4.11). This is an important step in clarifying roles, responsibilities and obligations of different parties in the engagement process. Individual agreements between Indigenous Groups and the government are an important opportunity to define consultation agreements based on the local needs and circumstances and enable Indigenous peoples to set their own standards in co-operation with the government. At the same time, bespoke agreements that advance quicker than the federal government’s renewal process will lead to the application of different consultation standards.

Box 4.11. Canadian Consultation/Reconciliation Agreements Mississaugas of the New Credit – Federal Government

In 2018, the Mississaugas of the New Credit, a southern Ontario First Nation, have strengthened their relationship with the Federal Government through the signature of a consultation protocol agreement. The protocol sets out a clear process for fulfilling Canada’s duty to consult with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and establishes the parties’ respective obligations. It is designed to promote more effective and efficient engagement, defining the following aspects:

  • Procedure for giving notice of projects.

  • Outline of the consultation process, including for Aboriginal title claims.

  • Elements for successful resolution.

  • General information, including improvements and changes to the protocol.

  • Funding provided by Canada.

  • Confidentiality.

Leading up to the agreement, the parties established a Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination discussion table and signed a Memorandum of Understanding defining the nature of their collaboration.

Kunst’aa guu-Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol with British Columbia

The Haida Nation has negotiated a unique agreement with British Columbia, the Kunst’aa guu-Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol that provides that decision-making is truly shared. The protocol is supported by provincial legislation, the Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act (Government of British Colombia, 2019[73]). Both provide that there is shared decision-making on Haida Gwaii (a number of small islands off British Columbia’s west coast) through the Haida Gwaii Management Council.

The Haida Gwaii Management Council consists of two members appointed by resolution of the Haida Nation after consultation with British Columbia, two members appointed by the lieutenant governor in council after consultation with the Haida Nation, and a chair appointed both by resolution of the Haida Nation and by the lieutenant governor in council. A decision of the council must be made by consensus of the members, and failing consensus, by a majority vote of members. The council has an important governance role with respect to forest management, protected areas, and heritage and culture.

Source: British Columbia Assembly of First Nations (2014[74]), Governance Toolkit - A Guide to Nation Building, (accessed on 15 October 2018).

In New Zealand, the duty to consult is derived from the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, including partnership and active protection, but is not regarded as absolute and therefore consultations vary according to circumstances of the case (Human Rights Council, 2015[75]). Laws that require engagement are the Resource Management Act of 1991 (No. 69) and the Local Government Act (2002). The local government act sets out obligations for councils to ensure Māori are included in local government decision-making and have processes for participation in place (Local Government Act, 2002[31]). While processes remain uneven between councils and the level of engagement remains subject to political discretion, good practice examples have been observed regarding co-management and joint-entities (see Chapter 3).

To ensure engagement, some countries have legal frameworks that require engagement with Indigenous peoples. The USA, for instance, legally requires all federal agencies and departments to consult with Indian tribal governments when considering policies that potentially impact tribes. The Executive Order 13175 (2000), “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments”, requires agencies “to establish regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration” on federal matters that significantly or uniquely affect Indigenous communities. The executive order has been criticised for being poorly applied and ineffective, creating a disjointed framework that lacks accountability (UN, 2012[51]). For instance, it falls short of setting a timeline for agencies to have a final consultation policy (Routel and Holth, 2013[76]). In the end, this leaves the quality of engagement to the individual agencies.

Programmes to build community capacity

Increasing engagement in decision-making requires capacities for effective governance within Indigenous communities. Past policies have dismantled traditional Indigenous structures and this has eroded Indigenous community governance and leadership capacity, which poses challenges for participatory decision-making. Governments can play an enabling role in providing resources and tools to strengthen the capabilities of Indigenous organisations. This section considers lessons from examples of these programmes in Australia and Canada. They demonstrate the importance of focusing on outcomes, adapting to the community’s existing capacity and governance arrangements, and providing technical support and advice.

The Empowered Communities Plan (2013) is a nation-wide initiative in Australia that provides an example of supporting Indigenous-led local development (Empowered Communities, 2018[77]). The programme focuses on supporting Indigenous authority and responsibility to empower local Indigenous leaders to create and drive solutions according to their communities’ needs. Indigenous leaders from eight remote, regional and urban communities across Australia developed the programme in collaboration with the federal government. To drive the implementation of the Indigenous Empowerment policy on the ground, each region establishes development agendas. The five-year development agendas are prepared by the Indigenous people of an Empowered Communities region and require the communities to commit to conditions including school attendance, participation in work and addressing alcohol and drug offences.

Another example is the Northern Territory Governments’ Local Decision-Making Initiative that was launched in 2017 and aims to transfer government service delivery to Aboriginal people and organisations based on their community aspirations. The ten-year plan sets out to build strong Aboriginal governance capable of driving local solutions to local problems. The Northern Territory government and Indigenous communities work together to develop bespoke pathways focused on each community for instance including housing, local government, education, training and jobs, healthcare, children and families as well as law and justice. This is done building on already existing structures and only if strong community support is secured (Northern Territory Government, 2017[78]). Depending on the needs of the community, they can decide on the level of control they want to exercise over certain services, providing them with the option to take over control of otherwise government-run services. This signifies a first-step towards enabling more self-determination, acknowledging that communities are best placed to understand their needs and respecting their connection to country and cultural fit. Essential for both these programmes is that they do not duplicate each other and establish competing programmes initiated by different levels of government, in this case, the federal and the territory level. Consequently, incentives for community planning should not be solitary policies having an effect in isolated places but need to be sufficiently liked to and embedded in other, more mainstream regional plans and aligned across different government levels.

In 2017, Canada developed its Community Development National Strategy aiming to support community development through a holistic, strength-based and community-led process, which respects the principles of cultural competency and Indigenous knowledge. The strategy includes Comprehensive Community Planning Program (CCP). The CCP is a tool that enables a community to plan its development in a way that meets its needs and aspirations. It establishes a future vision and guides the implementation of the project to achieve the vision, assures community project are thought through and linked to other plans of the community. To date, approximately one-quarter of First Nations, or 162, have Comprehensive Community Plans. The plans typically cover areas such as Governance, Land and Resources, Health, Infrastructure Development, Culture, Social, Education and Economy (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2016[79]).

Cultural competence

Capacity gaps do not exist solely on the side of Indigenous communities. Policymakers often do not have sufficient knowledge and awareness of the regional and local complexity of Indigenous cultures, livelihoods and society to engage with them effectively (Hunt, 2013[70]). This may create capability gaps, especially in positions of middle and upper management that have less direct contact with communities than their local and regional staff.

Part of the effort to build an environment in which Indigenous communities are encouraged to engage in local area planning is investing in the capacity of government personnel to build meaningful and strong relationships with them based on mutual respect. This requires personnel, from executive leaders to policy and administration officials, to take part in cultural exposure sessions and receive training in cross-cultural skills. In addition, the recognition of regional native languages as an asset could encourage regional staff to profit from native language training and enable Indigenous peoples that are bilingual the possibility to fill positions.

Cultural knowledge and sensitivity also mean examining past conflict, forced disposition, displacement and discrimination and engage in reconciliation actions to re-establish trust and resolve tensions (Hunt, 2013[70]). When looking to engage with Indigenous peoples, it might sometimes be unclear who should be approached as the right contact point. This is largely the case as Indigenous governance structures are a mix of traditional governance, colonial legacies and political advocacy groups. Indigenous peoples may perceive that jurisdictional and legislative separations do not correspond to their traditional identity, including land, people and resources. For example, First Nations peoples in Canada perceive themselves as much larger “Nations”, which were split-up into bands and reserves because of the Indian Act.

Specific training and practices can be undertaken to build cross-cultural competencies. In Victoria, Australia, for instance, Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Ltd. provides Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training for public, private and non-profit organisations in regards to cultural awareness perspectives, Indigenous history, Indigenous culture and value systems, and racism and stereotypes. In addition, Indigenous peoples need to be encouraged and supported to join the public service, to be able to mediate between the cultures bridge gaps in understanding and help to link the two worlds. This can be achieved by setting targets for Indigenous employment in the public sector and creating positions for Indigenous peoples in public institutions as community brokers or navigators.

Specific units can also be set up to liaise and co-ordinate engagement with Indigenous peoples. Following the requirement set out in New Zealand’s Local Government Act (2002), which constitutes the need for local councils to facilitate the participation of Māori in local government, many councils have created policy units for Māori. The Auckland Council has Te Waka Angamua – the Māori Strategy and Relations Unit. The department is responsible for providing advice on all Māori-specific policy, planning, research and evaluation, stakeholder engagement, relationship management, bicultural development and training, and Māori protocol. Similarly, Whakatāne District Council runs Tumuaki Ki Te Tumuaki, which comprises Cultural Training Wānanga (workshops) to assist the organisation with Māori cultural ceremonies, engagement with Māori and Māori translation of corporate documents and promotional material. They also employ a part-time Māori policy analyst (Local Government New Zealand, 2017[80]).

Empowering Indigenous organisations to shape and lead economic development strategies

This section of the chapter examines how Indigenous institutions are taking a leadership role in promoting economic development at the regional and local levels, and how to strengthen these Indigenous-led institutions. It begins by identifying the capabilities required of Indigenous-led institutions to take ownership of economic development strategies such as effective leadership and community engagement, financial literacy and business skills and acumen. This leadership role also includes the capacity to mobilise resources, influence political decision-making and build alliances. Leading practices to achieve this outcome by creating ecosystems for capacity development, community brokers that add governance capacity and fostering regional alliances for scale are identified and discussed.

Strengthening capabilities for self-governance

It is impossible to understate the complexity of local governance arrangements across Indigenous communities globally. Decision-making institutions, and therefore their capabilities, have been shaped by unique contexts, histories, culture and aspirations. Institutions that might enable Indigenous communities to take a leadership role in governing their affairs have different histories, mandates and levels of support. There is an overall trend of Indigenous peoples “taking back control” over their affairs and experimenting with different institutions to achieve this goal. This means that trajectories of self-governance are different within and between countries. Governments need to recognise this diversity and invest in effective ways of strengthening these Indigenous-led institutions.

The shift toward self-governance

Prior to colonisation, Indigenous people had the capacity to distribute resources and generate well-being for millennia, through the use of land, traditional knowledge and innovation, and ancestral governance informed by shared cultural values and norms (Bauman et al., 2015[81]). But colonisation bought violent dispossession from land and other policies for exclusion, assimilation and slavery. Many communities changed, as governments and religious institutions displaced groups from their lands and bought them together on missions and reserves, or removed children to non-Indigenous families or boarding institutions (Cornell, 2006[9]). Some people returned to their “homelands”, some took over the newer communities that had been established and others moved on following, or forced into, work in other places. These devastating histories have created issues around identity and membership, and debates around “who is the ‘self’ in self-governance” (Smith et al., 2008[82]).

Indigenous groups have responded with the spirited and continuous action to regain control of resources. Frequently changing government agendas and policies around welfare and land rights, have seen new and complex hybrid organisations created to negotiate treaties, make land claims and alleviate poverty (Tsey et al., 2012[3]; Curry and Donker, 2011[16]). This has been a time consuming and onerous challenge for communities – but a hugely impressive response. Indigenous knowledge and capabilities have subsequently developed across health, housing, education and training, culture, regulatory and legal issues, justice, economic development and business, land ownership and management, heritage and site protection, and the environment (Bauman et al., 2015[81]). But the relentless focus required to address government policies across these issues has affected capacity to evolve effective governance for economic development in some places, particularly in smaller clan-based regional settings (Curry and Donker, 2011[16]; Dodson and Smith, 2003[2]; Cornell, 2006[9]) (Tsey et al., 2012[3]).

Indigenous communities may also wish to pursue economic development in different ways than the current mainstream modes. Many are seeking models that are not only profitable but that also address community capacity and the preservation of traditional culture, values and language. Communities are deciding for themselves what they want to achieve and what will be a culturally acceptable way of realising their goals (see Box 4.12). This is shaped by their unique cultural understandings and obligations, as well as the processes for reconciling the multiple, overlapping and intersecting Indigenous interests of individuals, families, clans and First Nations, and Indigenous organisations (CYPCYLC, 2018[83]). In some cases, there is a genuine trade-off between cultural values and economic performance; in other cases, the two are complementary (NZIER, 2003[84]). Either way, this contested “how” creates additional challenges for internal and external governance.

Box 4.12. Inclusion of traditional law and practice into modern community governance - The case of Yawuru

The Yawuru people of Broome (Western Australia) set up the Yawuru Corporate Group as a governing body after receiving Native Title rights. While their organisation emerged from their native title claim, founded in Australian law, it is at the same time grounded in Bugarrigarra – the time before our time –, which and represents the core of Yawuru cosmology. Bugarrigarra, among other things, specifies protocols and laws for living within this environment and amongst others. Following that, the Yawuru made respect and active maintenance of language, law and culture the basis for their strategic planning and economic development initiatives. Developing a unique place-based plan, the Yawuru Cultural Management Plan sets out how Yawuru people intend to manage their country and cultural heritage using Yawuru understandings of the country. It highlights how Yawuru will work with partners to make sure that the country is cared for in the best possible way and to deliver the greatest possible benefits to Yawuru people. It focuses on sustaining traditional practices, developing the Yawuru Rangers programme, working with scientists to collect and record valuable data, developing employment and business opportunities, and further strengthening the culture and health of the Yawuru community through connection to the country. The award-winning Yawuru Cultural Management Plan has set a precedent for many communities that have an inseparable custodial relationship with their landscape.

Source: Yawuru (2016[85]), Planning for the Future: Yawuru Cultural Management Plan, 3rd Edition.

Indigenous self-governance models reflect the process of colonisation and legal frameworks, the cultural distinctiveness Indigenous peoples have struggled to preserve, their conceptions of how authority should be exercised, their view of acceptable economic development, their goals, and the assets they have to work with (Moran, 2009[86]). A diversity of governance models is required to accommodate these differences. A one-size-fits-all approach within any one country is bound to fail and governance cannot be imposed by outside authorities. It has to be built internally by communities themselves (Smith et al., 2008[82]).

Governments need to acknowledge different capabilities will be needed in different places at different times. They will also need to recognise good governance is an ongoing process that requires long-term commitment – just as it is for all national, regional and local governments, who invest heavily in a constant process of building and iterating their own public service capacity.

The OECD’s place-based approach offers governments a framework for investing in capacity building in a flexible way across communities and over time. The rewards for governments will be significant. Not only has self-governance been shown to create more effective decision-making and better outcomes. but negotiation about models and capacities will facilitate cross-cultural learning and exchange, which will improve government and build Indigenous communities trust in it (Tsey et al., 2012[3]). Indigenous history of adaptation through adversity also means clever models of governance are emerging that governments could learn from to improve their actions for all other types of communities.

Common capability gaps

A number of capability gaps in governance for developing economic opportunities were identified by Indigenous institutions in the OECD country visits and surveys. The most often cited were:

Leadership, defining who has the authority and over what, making sure that rules to ensure authority are exercised properly and people are being held accountable for decisions made. In particular, the development of young people as leaders with the skills for economic development was cited as a challenge, particularly in rural or remote areas. In Australia, there is evidence that Indigenous leaders, not only need to have “general” leadership qualities but are also required to negotiate and balance their obligations between mainstream and community standards (Tsey et al., 2012[3]).

The development and use of local data. Chapter 1 identified challenges related to data collection and the need for local communities to collect their own data. In places where it exists locally, it is often fragmented and outdated. Together with missing capabilities on how to design surveys, collect data, develop measurements and analytical skills and process data, evidence to inform local decision-making is limited in Indigenous communities.

Box 4.13. Provide information and data to support local planning and community governance

Data is essential to inform policymaking on all governance levels. Without data, decision-making for Indigenous communities and organisations is limited. Local data can comprise knowledge and information on the people living in the community, including lands, resources and programmes. They can shed light on demographic development, membership, socio-economic conditions such as educational attainment rate and employment, maps of sacred lands and territories and way of life (Kukutai and Taylor, 2016[87]). In an effort to rebuild Indigenous governance structures and empower communities in their local planning, Indigenous communities need to have access to information and data about themselves and their communities. Yet, despite increased digitalisation, accessing, gathering, owning and applying local data is a challenge for many Indigenous communities (Kukutai and Taylor, 2016[87]).

Data availability at the community level is often a challenge and if it exists, it is often fragmented or siloed so that it is not useful to inform policymaking or evaluation. Accessibility to data can be improved through better dissemination from federal, state or university sources that hold public data. For instance, through providing dedicated community representatives with technologically secured access to their specific communities’ data, that might be part of larger datasets like a census, while ensuring not to violate privacy standards or give access to unauthorised people. Further, public research institutions should be required to share data they collect, for instance through linking data sharing agreements to public funding arrangements.

At the same time, communities need to be supported in setting up the technological structures to control, manage and protect data as well as building capacities for data analysis and application. This way Indigenous people can increase the control over the knowledge created and make use of it for their own goals. For instance, in gathering data on traditional practices on land, they can translate previously invisible information into evidence protecting their culture and way of life. To be able to do this on a large scale and with a certain degree of sophistication, this also requires governments to increase funding for data collection and expertise for analysis.

Strategic planning and examining different models for financing actions: this includes defining a vision for development and ensuring investments are linked to specific actions.

Business skills and acumen including negotiating contracts and joint agreements. Some communities would like to create partnerships and joint ventures for business or government (in tourism, land management, mining, fisheries, etc.) but do not know how, or what models work. Indigenous organisations lack the skills to undertake these negotiations to get the best outcomes for communities, including ways to insert cultural imperatives and sufficient business acumen.

Financial management and literacy. This includes the ability to make sense and manipulate money in different forms, the ability to manage and resolve financial problems as opportunities and ability to appreciate the wider impact of a financial decision for the broader community (Collin, 2011[88]). Often a lack of these capabilities leaves Indigenous peoples vulnerable to financial exploitation. At the same time, it is a core organisational capability needed to successfully implement economic development processes and assure accountability. In 2018, only 38 of 200 000 accountants accredited in Australia by CPA Australia and similar professional membership organisations identify as Indigenous (Parkes, 2018[89]).

Human resources management is linked to overall strategic planning and the roles that are defined for individuals to contribute to anticipated goals. It includes recruiting and training Indigenous candidates but also creating a work environment that reflects Indigenous values as well as talent management and succession planning (The Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada, 2013[90]).

Structures to build community capacity through an education and training pipeline, which can be absent on regional communities (Dodson and Smith, 2003[2]; Halseth et al., 2011[91]; Tsey et al., 2012[3]).

The capabilities needed for good governance

Capacity building requires a framework for understanding the community development processes that build local leadership and the institutional processes through which communities can take charge of and responsibility for improving their circumstances. Shaped by unique cultural characteristics and obligations, these processes include ways to empower effective governance institutions to create legitimacy, seek community input, reconcile different opinions, make decisions, build the right relationships with those who can help achieve goals, and create profitable models for action and ensure leadership that can bring a community along on the journey.

It does not matter what type of local governing institution exists – whether they have been established in response to government policies, created for community advocacy or are a traditional governance group – they will need the capabilities listed in Box 4.14 to undertake economic development.

Box 4.14. Capabilities needed to undertake economic development

1. Build legitimate and culturally appropriate leadership and institutions that can develop a strategy to effectively exercise control over the economic development process, including:

  • Involving the community (and its stakeholders) in determining needs and goals (community engagement and consultation).

  • Compiling evidence to underpin planning (including statistics, research and evaluation).

  • Developing strategic action plans.

  • Building relationships with those needed to action the plans, and determining ways to leverage funding.

  • Running the governance organisation effectively (corporate governance: finance, legal, risk management, human resources management, evaluation, etc.).

2. Act by:

  • Establishing profitable and sustainable enterprises, social enterprises, co-operatives, Indigenous businesses and joint ventures.

  • Finding partnership models to address disadvantage.

  • Increasing participation in the labour market and education pathways (building community capacity).

3. Determine strategies for sustainability and scale, particularly through:

  • Advocacy.

  • Partnerships, alliances and other processes involving government.

Building scale to strengthen Indigenous governance capacities

Local Indigenous organisations also need to build scale to access public resources, attract investment and resolve complex problems. This can be a challenge if Indigenous communities are small and in remote locations, and their institutions are young with low levels of own-source funding and support. Across the world, Indigenous people are devising clever ways to either develop governance capacities internally (often in partnership with universities or consultants or through joint ventures), through supporting institutions such as their own finance organisations or by bringing in additional capacity in the form of non-Indigenous secondees or officers. Communities are also experimenting with innovative ways to build alliances and scale, which helps them influence policies, access new knowledge and technologies, and attract capital. This section of the chapter identifies three ways for Indigenous communities to build scale in their governance arrangements: i) ecosystems for strengthening local governance; ii) community brokers that add governance capacity; and iii) regional alliances to create scale (see Table 4.2).

Ecosystems for strengthening local governance

To be successful in economic development Indigenous organisations need skills to help existing initiatives build scale, incubate new initiatives and deal with policy and administrative issues. Some communities may not have access to an organised ecosystem for capacity building, particularly one that provides culturally appropriate access to advice, training, finance and support. This section introduces a range of different examples that are characterised by different specific features. Overall, a capacity-building ecosystem in a regional area would include components that:

  • Maintains a system overview and showcases models.

  • Assists in planning and the identification of markets, or models to address disadvantage.

  • Provides information about capacity building opportunities.

  • Assists navigating systems.

  • Facilitates collaboration, including contact with investors, or partners.

  • Provides spaces where innovation could occur.

  • Assists with promotion.

Governments can assist by examining the ecosystems that allow Indigenous organisations to innovate, accelerate growth and address disadvantage. Governments can check that opportunities are accessible and have all the components needed. It may be possible to construct ecosystems by connecting existing activities (Jacobs, 2017[92]) but these ecosystems must also be culturally appropriate and able to address disadvantage as well as the development of business. This means they will need to include expertise in social enterprise models that suit Indigenous views of economic development. Indigenous community governance is likely to focus on social and economic development and may want support with models such as social enterprise, profit for purpose or co-operatives, collective impact models and social investment (see Chapter 2). An ecosystem will, therefore, need a diversity of networks that span beyond those of existing business support infrastructure.

Regional advisory services

For individual community organisations, one way of building governance capacity involves auditing the skills, financing, technical assistance and relationships of the decision-making group and/or organisation, and offering education, training, mentoring or organisational restructuring to fill gaps. These types of audits and self-assessment are widely used for mainstream decision-making boards to ensure they follow good governance principles and there are many tools available. Entities in urban areas can tap into the plethora of consultants, leadership programmes or university researchers to spend time with them to go through the process in one project. For example, the Apunipima Cape York Health Council invited university researchers to work with them to improve employee capacity within their organisation. They focused on building both hard capacity, such as in the technical aspects of planning, and soft capacity, including empowerment. Participants identified planning priorities, developing their skills, and then refined the strategies. The project was able to demonstrate changes in organisational capacity and confidence over time (Tsey et al., 2012[3]).

There are a range of issues for rural Indigenous organisations in the above strategy. Some rural communities may not be aware of what is available to them or have the networks to access the right help. Some may not have the funds to contract services. Some might find the training or leadership programs they identify as needed on an ongoing basis are not accessible in their areas. Some organisations offering consultations may not be culturally competent and therefore inappropriate. Small-scale Indigenous organisations may not have enough people to train in all aspects and may prefer to bring additional capacity in, for example, to do planning or strategy writing, rather than relying on training. Most importantly, these types of capacity building may not bring in the right types of activities and expertise at the right times. Longer-term support may be required, particularly given strategies may need to “pivot” while assessing whether certain strategies work.

Regional business advisory services (or development agencies) and incubators can help by providing links to a broader range of resources in a network that can be accessed as needed. They can offer Indigenous businesses and organisations a seamless experience over a longer development process by connecting them to opportunities to find:

  • Foundation skills through training, mentor programmes and public workforce and economic development programmes (including Indigenous-developed ones such as Jarwun in Australia that offers short-term corporate or government secondees).

  • High-quality technical assistance such as data analysis, legal advice, accountancy or other management services.

  • Planning or policy advice, including models.

  • Financial advice, access to finance and information about investment opportunities.

  • Assistance with regulatory issues.

  • Links to collaboration partners.

  • Other support as required.

Community-based advisory hubs have been called for by regional Indigenous governance including for the Arctic (OECD, 2018[93]) and Australia (CYPCYLC, 2018[83]). They could be cost effective if they utilised the abundance of infrastructure that already exists and governments could assist by creating frameworks for areas (Jacobs, 2017[92]). In addition, they could provide capability improvements for government officers working to support economic development, who may have never led an organisation or run a business themselves.

Box 4.15. A community-based business advisory: Ávki, Sweden

Ávki is a development agency with Sámi cultural competency that was created to be “a partner for anyone who wants to develop and have a well-managed economy” and enable sameby to diversify economic activities (co-owned by them). It services the Sámi business community groups in Gällivare, Norrland and Sápmi offering business skills, book-keeping and accounting, and acting as an intermediary organisation, fostering collaboration and helping Sámi work through the funding and programme landscape.

Source: Ávki (2019[94]), Homepage (website), 28 March 2019)

Innovation hubs

Over and above advisory services, is the need for innovation spaces of some type that additionally focus on developing innovative models, services or products for increased productivity or scale. These would allow innovators to come together to address key challenges in responding to business or community needs. In business, they involve communities of innovators coming together to find better ways to do things or trigger new business. In community development, they also operate to find solutions to social problems using the input of “citizen experts” who give their time to help develop new ways of doing things. Local government in Mexico City, for example, has recognised they have many citizens that are capable of helping solve complex problems. They have created the Laboratorio Para la Ciudad (Laboratory for the City), where citizens and citizen experts come together with local government officers in short sessions to find creative solutions to public policy problems. In Lambeth in the UK, a community governance partnership (including local government) has created an innovation hub in a neighbourhood to foster general participation. It took this step because of a perceived failure of the welfare system to generate community outcomes or entrepreneurial thinking and strong governance in communities with limited opportunities. Evaluation has shown this has generated economic benefits in the area (Box 4.16).

These examples are part of an emerging worldwide trend of local governance focusing on civic and economic innovation. With modification, these ideas could usefully serve Indigenous governance in regional areas and governments could help with their development.

Box 4.16. An innovation hub for general participation, United Kingdom

In Lambeth, United Kingdom, as an alternative to welfare, a community partnership with government created 20 “sharing” projects to meet local people’s daily needs through participation. Projects were of two types: i) highly accessible “micro activities” that provide the knowledge, spaces and equipment to help with day-to-day life, such as saving money through bulk cooking (for example baby food) or bulk buying, fixing things through skill sharing, or growing food; and ii) larger community businesses, co-operatives and hybrid ventures, that distributed resources such as childcare or renewable energy. A free regular incubation programme underpinned the programme to generate projects of interest to the community. Early evaluation showed social and economic benefits and that high levels of micro-participation is a key component. At a 15% participation rate the effects reach the whole community, even those not involved. This work could suit Indigenous communities and we heard of micro-initiatives already being utilised such as small fishing licenses to promote enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Source: (The Royal Foundation of St Katharine, 2019[95])

Co-development institutions

Aside from business and development advisories, economic development will be improved by access to “co-development” institutions in networks, particularly those that offer research and development, financial support and advocacy to Indigenous governance institutions.

One way to enhance innovation, and important input into more localised innovation hubs or activities is through the research and development undertaken by specialist research institutes. Access to this type of evidence allows communities to develop the type of governance it needs to mobilise resources, increase productivity and reduce dependency on income transfer payments. Indigenous communities, therefore, need links to research that can help them create new models and utilise best practice. Representatives of Indigenous governance institutions spoke of the importance of learning from best practice examples from their own country and overseas in Indigenous economic development (OECD fact-finding missions to Australia, Canada and Sweden).

There are a number of specialist centres in universities around the globe that provide research and development to Indigenous governance (Box 4.17). They examine best practice in governance, the community development processes and tools outlined earlier and models for economic development. They also review and collate learning from global experience, giving communities access to the combined body of knowledge on governance from Indigenous groups globally. Governments fund these institutions and could expand their funding to include the support for the capacity building being requested by regional Indigenous groups in their jurisdictions.

Box 4.17. Examples of countries research and development institutes for Indigenous economic development

Te Mata Hautū Taketake (Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre), New Zealand

The Te Mata Hautū Taketake (Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre) Aotearoa/New Zealand aims to improve Māori governance generally, whether it concerns Māori trusts and incorporations, asset holding companies, iwi organisations, post-settlement governance entities, marae and hapu committees; and Indigenous peoples’ organisations globally. It recognises the Māori economy (approximately NZD 36 billion) demands efficient and culturally appropriate governance by Māori organisations, and engages in collaborative research nationally and internationally, in consultation and partnership with Māori and Indigenous organisations.

Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australia

The Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research is Australia’s foremost social science research body and think-tank focused on Indigenous economic and social policy issues. The centre is building long-term partnerships with Indigenous stakeholders with a view to supporting and working with key individuals and organisations in the areas of research, education and policy development. It also undertakes commissioned consultancies for agencies such as land councils and native title representative bodies, Commonwealth and state government departments and agencies.

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, United States

The Harvard Project of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, United States, aims to understand and foster the conditions under which sustained, self-determined social and economic development is achieved among American Indian nations. Its core activities include research, education and the administration of a tribal governance awards programme. In all of its activities, the Harvard Project collaborates with the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. The Harvard Project is also formally affiliated with the Harvard University Native American Program, an interfaculty initiative at Harvard University. At the heart of the Harvard Project is the systematic, comparative study of social and economic development on American Indian reservations. What works, where and why?

Sources: (University of Waikato, 2019[96]) (accessed 28 March 2019), (Australia National University, 2019[97]) (accessed 28 March 2019), (Harvard University, 2019[98]) (accessed 29 March 2019)

Advocacy organisations

Another type of co-development institution important for an ecosystem to build community governance capacity is a not-for-profit advocacy organisation. These organisations address the systemic barriers community governance faces across whole nations. They challenge governments about self-determination, race relations, inclusion, government policy, bureaucratic barriers, and equity in economic development and outline the conditions for positive change. They can be Indigenous community-controlled or non-Indigenous.

An example of a large community-controlled advocacy organisation is the National Congress of American Indians (Box 4.18) that is actively engaged in national and international advocacy efforts, educational campaigns and events, and programmatic initiatives. In the area of economic development, its advocacy efforts are based on its report Securing our Futures that outlines the challenge, “policy gains” and “promising developments” (NZIER, 2003[84]). The report demonstrates areas where tribes are exercising sovereignty, diversifying their revenue base and bringing economic success to nations and communities. It examines the path to “securing the future” – from education to food security, climate change to workforce development – illustrated with success stories from tribal nations (NZIER, 2003[84]). Their strategy is place-based, demonstrating that the circumstances of each tribal nation are unique but that promising practices offer a way forward to secure tribal economies and sustain prosperity for future generations.

Box 4.18. Organisations that advocate for better supporting policy: The National Congress of American Indians, United States

The National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organisation serving tribal governments and communities. Its membership is diverse, consisting of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, tribal citizens, individuals, and Native and non-Native organisations. It serves as a forum – through an executive council, mid-year conference and annual convention – to create unified policy positions among tribal governments in order to: i) protect and advance tribal governance and Treaty rights; ii) promote the economic development and health and welfare in Indian and Alaska Native communities; and iii) educate the public toward a better understanding of Indian and Alaska Native tribes.

Source: (National Congress of American Indians, 2019[99]) (accessed 29 March 2019)

Securing our Futures also outlines that change is needed from the government to support tribal economic success. Successes have included legislation to improve health outcomes and advance public safety, the inclusion of tribes in national policy to support economic recovery and financial security, and new policy and legislation to streamline leasing and business development. While tribes do not want governments to drive their development, the National Congress of American Indians is calling for further investment in tribal economies, to stimulate and implement innovative economic policy, and remove barriers to economic development. They undertake their advocacy with urgency, acknowledging “Federal spending on Indian programs … has been falling since the late 1970s … and is slated for deep cuts [as deficits grow]”. It is committed to the work of rebuilding and shoring up tribal societies, “bolstered with the tools of self-determination and self-government” (NZIER, 2003[84]).

Smaller non-representative organisations also exist to provide advocacy support. Reconciliation Australia and Reconciliation Canada focus on influencing businesses, schools, community groups and government organisations through dialogue and Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs). RAPs in Australia provide a framework for all organisations, including government and corporates, to create social change and economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in their organisations (see Chapter 2). They include commitments to acknowledgement, employment, training, procurement and capacity building. They also conduct advocacy activities, including research, national indicators and media to influence policymakers on aspects of reconciliation. Reconciliation Australia has undertaken campaigns on the delivery of banking and financial services to Indigenous communities (Altman and Sanders, 2002[100]), while Reconciliation Canada has just commenced a campaign on “economic reconciliation” (Reconciliation Canada, 2019[101]).

Community brokers that add governance capacity

An additional strategy for building governance capacity is through community brokers within Indigenous communities. Community brokers (sometimes called community advisors, community facilitators or CEOs of community corporations) are being used in some Indigenous communities to increase the capacity of governance organisations to undertake economic development. There are other models that address disadvantage and others focused on creating enterprises. In some, the brokers are Indigenous and in others, they are non-Indigenous overseen by Indigenous governance. In both, brokers strengthen governance organisations by bringing in extra capacity.

Box 4.19. Characteristics of “good brokers”

Evaluations show “good brokers” are critical to the success of dealing with issues that require partners to succeed. This is because the brokers:

  • keep a birds-eye-view over work and make sure everything gets completed

  • provide capacity that is otherwise lacking

  • foster co-operation and ensure the right decision-makers are involved and have a commitment to contribute

  • assist in navigating government bureaucracy

  • identify opportunities and resources.

Successful brokers are highly personable and enthusiastic, are focused on the “big picture” and have:

  • communication, networking, facilitation and negotiation skills

  • project management and organising skills

  • local knowledge and some standing in the community at a leadership level

  • knowledge of the workings of governments

  • entry into a range of settings, being seen as somewhat independent by all partners (trust).

Sources: Sullivan, H. and C. Skelcher (2003[102]), “Working across boundaries: Collaboration in public services”,; Pope, J. and J. Lewis (2008[103]), “Improving partnership governance: Using a network approach to evaluate partnerships in Victoria”,

Brokers can build partnerships with those with the levers to make action happen. When partners first come together they do not necessarily see themselves as interdependent (Keast et al., 2004[104]) and to achieve this requires building both trust in and understanding of other organisations (Mandell, 2001[105]; Lewis, 2005[106]). The success of partnerships is, therefore, dependent on the relationship building brokers can foster that allows people to learn about each other, reshape any stereotypical views they hold, and understand the constraints other organisations face (Mandell, 2002[107]). In addition, brokers deal with hindrances such as: “blockers” (organisations or individuals that slow down activity or act against its interests); staff turnover in government; and organisational silos in governments.

Box 4.20. The Kimberly Institute Broome Model, Australia

The Kimberly Institute (2015) Broome Model is an Aboriginal, community-controlled, collective-impact partnership approach, with social investment mechanisms, that creates long-term plans to address Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage (Kimberley Institute, 2017[108]). Collective impact has emerged from earlier models of networked partnerships, addressing entrenched disadvantage in place-based communities, and has been rapidly adopted in Australia, Canada and the United States (AIFS, 2017[109]). It has a framework of tools to guide the distilling of existing knowledge, the examination of strengths and the design of collaborative activity. The inclusion of a shared measurement system and the focus on dedicated resources via a backbone organisation (AIFS, 2017[109]).

The model involves a community broker facilitating a process that starts with a community survey to determine issues and needs. The broker then builds an alliance of Aboriginal community-controlled non-governmental organisations to create packages of programmes to address the community priorities uncovered (jobs, housing, etc). Organisational capacity building is then arranged so that organisations can participate and a set of metrics is created for funders. Instead of seeking government funding directly, the service providers obtain medium- to long-term funding in the form of an “investment” from a corporate or social investor. The government underwrites this “investment”, agreeing to repay the investor the investment sum along with a “return”, after a certain number of years and achievement of agreed outcomes. The model allows investors to make a long-term investment in potential outcomes described and monitored using good empirical data on an ongoing basis.

In the Broome Model, two community brokers gave the traditional owners and Aboriginal community-controlled corporate entity considerable additional capacity by:

  • Partnering with a university to help design and run the community survey. This analysis underpinned its strategy and was used to attract funders and provide a baseline for evaluation.

  • Building relationships across Indigenous organisations in Broome and engaging consultants to help build their capacity to design intervention packages and a social investment model that was backed by their data.

  • Negotiating agreements with corporate partners for investment and convincing government to repay the investment with interest if it produced better outcomes than its current funding model.

  • Running the projects effectively, building adult training into activities (community capacity building).

  • Collecting evaluation data that demonstrated the social return on investment.

The two pilot projects undertaken using the model have been successful. But the Indigenous brokers report three challenges that have been “larger or more resistant than expected”:

  • Despite interest and commitment, the capacity of community organisations to make a major change in their business model, and their internal capacity to maximise their participation in the process, is a limiting factor. The brokers need more time to assist with planning and capacity across several organisations.

  • Despite getting Yawuru Native Title Holders’ full involvement and recognition of the potential benefits for all concerned, ongoing engagement and leadership was more difficult than expected, as other imperatives arose over time. This is a reflection of competing demands and priorities in a ‘thin’ institutional context.

  • The lack of interest from government and some of its agencies despite the demonstrated benefits for the delivery of their service obligations in the community. Brokers were developing a concerted strategy of engagement with governments and their agencies but have had to take other jobs.

This model is being examined by other corporates wanting to operate in Indigenous areas but has stalled in Broome because of a lack of funding for brokers to undertake the capacity building in all parties.

Regional alliances between Indigenous communities

The final way that regional communities can build capacity is to form alliances with other communities. There are fewer examples of this in regional areas because governance is clan-based and assimilation, exclusion and land policies have not fostered clans working together. In addition, any increase in the scale of Indigenous organisations brings issues about representation, interests and accountability to governance institutions (Altman and Sanders, 2002[100]). These are difficult issues to deal with, so the desire for organisations to remain locally autonomous is understandable (Altman and Sanders, 2002[100]).

Box 4.21. Examples of First Nations building scale for leadership and decision-making in Canada

St’át’imc governance services

One example of capacity building between Indigenous communities can be found in British Columbia, Canada. The St’át’imc First Nation, made up of ten First Nation Bands, formed a unified governance structure: the St’át’imc Chiefs Council (SCC). The structure represents the original inhabitants of a territory that is located in the Southern Coast Mountains and the Fraser Canyon region of British Columbia. While respecting the integrity and autonomy of each community, the council body is seeking to build collective strength through unification. Aside from protecting St’át’imc jurisdiction, it seeks to foster self-sufficiency and self-determination. In 2011, the St’át’imc signed a landmark agreement with a local electric distributor and the province to address grievances in relation to the construction and operation of hydro facilities. In the process, the SCC set up the St’át’imc Government Services (SGS), which are crucial for advancing capacities in all member communities (St’át’imc Government Services, n.d.[110]).

SGS programmes address capability gaps concerning organisational governance, financial management, human resources and leadership. This is done through a three-year strategic plan that contains annual work plans and tools to track, demonstrate and evaluate organisational results. Specific examples with regards to capacity building include a skills inventory and gap analysis conducted in 2015. It identifies local employment demand and determines available skills at the community level. Further, it provides recommendations and strategies to meet the skills required informing the development of an education and training plan (St’át’imc Government Services, 2015[111]). The nation has also set-up a scholarship programme which provides support in areas such as post-secondary education, health careers, St’át’imc language and culture, economic development, governance and knowledge management.

Mi’kmaq Nation

Prior to colonisation, the Mi’kmaq territory (Mi’kma’ki) covered Nova Scotia, parts of New Brunswick and Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. Mi’kma’ki was divided into seven districts that were led by a district chief. These chiefs came together to form the Mi’kmaw Grand Council that governed the whole territory. Colonisation and settlement disrupted these traditional forms of governance. The primary form of governance for contemporary Mi’kmaw are reserves formed under the Indian Act.

However, the Mi’kmaq First Nations in Nova Scotia are also coming together to collaborate on a larger scale. The Mi’kmaq Nation Economic Development Strategy was designed following an economic base study. It outlines five directions to strengthen and build the Nation:

  • Assessing capacity of each community and the Nation to become economic-development ready and establishing implementation and operational management plans, practices, decision-making processes, accountability and financial management.

  • Planning business development opportunities for each community.

  • Partnership development to work on business development and diversification, business agreements, community revenue and development, skills and capacity, meaningful employment and social well-being within the Nation.

  • Lands and assets to ensure the Nation continues to invest in and preserve the Mi’kmaw culture, language and connection to the land and its resources, increase skills and employment, and develop strong leaders to reach the Nation’s goals.

  • Community led by establishing clarified roles and responsibilities between communities, the Nation and support organisations and, by revitalising a culture of participation through prosperous individuals, communities and the Nation.


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Annex 4.A. Key policy documents

The following national Indigenous economic development documents were reviewed:

  • Australian Government (2018): Closing the Gap – Prime Minister’s Report 2018.

  • Australian Government (2018): Indigenous Business Sector Strategy.

  • Australian Government (2011): Indigenous Economic Development Strategy 2011-18.

  • Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2008), Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development.

  • Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2012), Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development, Update on Implementation of the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development.

  • Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2014), Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development, as well as Progress Report – June 2014

  • Māori Economic Development Panel (2012): He kai kei aku ringa. The Crown Māori Economic Growth Partnership.

  • Māori Economic Development Panel (2012): He kai kei aku ringa. The Crown Māori Economic Growth Partnership – Action Plan 2012-17.

  • Ministry for Māori Development (2017): He kai kei aku ringa. E RERE Booklet.

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