Indigenous development

Watene, Krushil (2018). 'Indigenous Development' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


Development by and for indigenous peoples is centrally about self-determination. Indigenous development is development that is undertaken by indigenous peoples in ways consistent with their own values, needs, and aspirations. Indeed, and despite ongoing colonial oppression, Indigenous peoples have not only managed to survive, but to maintain relationships grounded in their own philosophies. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Mātauranga Māori has become central to a range of government policy and tribal development strategies. Sovereignty movements such as Sumaq/Allin Kawsay or Buen Vivir in Latin America, and Minobimaatisiiwin’s Living Good from the Great Lakes Region of North America have become political signifiers able to express the aspirations of autonomy and self-determination of many Indigenous peoples globally. Similar movements can be found amongst Indigenous communities elsewhere such as Feng-shui or living in harmony with nature in China, and Laman Laka, the well-being principle of Nicaragua’s Indigenous peoples.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and global development agendas such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) reinforce the significance of self-determination and local Indigenous knowledges for global development. This panel details some of the ways in which research with and by indigenous peoples for their own development is currently taking place. In such a way, this panel asks:

  1. What development projects are currently being undertaken by indigenous peoples?
  2. How are indigenous values, needs, and goals shaping these projects?
  3. In what ways do these projects build the capabilities of indigenous communities toward such things as: sustainability, justice, and self-determination?

We begin with an overview of ‘Pā to Plate’, a community-based project, where ideas for community-based food production initiatives are being co-developed by descendants, producers, communities and researchers in Tai Tokerau, Aotearoa/New Zealand. Like other community projects with indigenous peoples around the world, ‘Pa to Plate’ is about connecting nutrients from ancestral soils (whenua) with descendants (tangata), exploring sustainable food production, value chains and security. This presentation explains this project to date and details the various ways in which the capabilities of marae communities are being enhanced.

We then move on to consider how indigenous knowledges and world views could be incorporated into governance models, based on ecosystem-based management. Focussin on several tribes in Te Tau Ihu, the northern part of the South Island, Aotearoa/New Zealand, this presentation details a governance model currently being trialled based on the ideas of complex sovereignty and plural legal systems (New Zealand law and tikanga Māori). This presentation will describe the conceptual frame which informs the trial, as well as some of the experiences and lessons of the research to date.

Finally, we explore the importance of data for indigenous self-determination. This presentation begins by detailing the limitations of top down processes present in developing frameworks and indicators for measuring the outcomes of Indigenous people. This presentation then explores how indigenous communities are developing their own evidence and indicators to inform their development needs and in that process mitigate the negative governance effects of national goal and target setting imposed the settler states in which they are located.

Self-determination lies at the heart of development for and by indigenous peoples. Achieving self-determination requires both the transformation of governance and law, as well as space to enable indigenous peoples to articulate, measure, pursue and realize lives they value. This panel explores a number of ways in which indigenous peoples are undertaking such development, and highlights the various ways in which self-determination entails transformation that nourishes the collective well-being of indigenous peoples.

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