Sustainable development – indigenous contributions and perspectives

Yap, Mandy (2018). 'Sustainable Development - Indigenous contributions and perspectives' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


As the international community turns its focus to the Post15 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, indigenous communities have reason to be hopeful that this new development paradigm provides a vehicle for change. While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were primarily targeted at developing countries, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are more inclusive in nature, appealing to the adoption of the goals and targets in developed nations as well. Additionally, the SDG framework is process focused and based in a human rights framework, thus aligning more with the principles set out in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), ratified in 2007. What’s more, the SDGs, with 17 goals and 169 targets have a proposed framework of 230 indicators for reporting and monitoring. Parallel with the setting of goals and targets is the production and use of indicators to monitor and report on the progress of countries and societies. UN Statistics has already released a document ‘A World that Counts’ which notes that in order to address the needs above, more investments towards improved data for monitoring and accountability will be required (UN-IEAG 2014).

For many Indigenous peoples and communities, there is a shared common goal of having their survival, cultural values, and rights to land and natural resources recognised. Indigenous peoples are concerned with creating space (both nationally and internationally) to articulate, pursue and reclaim lives they value. Despite sidelining culture as a dimension of sustainable development, the SDGs require local solutions, local knowledges, and local experiences to achieve. Indeed, there has been a concerted call to increase efforts in the production of statistics and for Indigenous populations around the world. Yet, indigenous communities and groups around the world have long recognised the importance of setting their own development agendas. For some time, indigenous peoples have also recognised the need to make informed development decisions using robust evidence.

This panel session considers the critical contribution that Indigenous peoples and communities make to the scholarship of sustainable development and how Indigenous communities have and continue to set their own priorities and development framework. In particular, this panel asks:

1. How are indigenous communities framing and pursuing their own development?

2. In what ways are indigenous peoples actively engaged in the collection of well-being and development data for their own communities?

3. In what ways do these initiatives enrich our understanding of sustainability and the likelihood of success for the SDGs?

We begin with a discussion on how Indigenous communities are framing and pursuing their development aspirations by bringing Indigenous worldviews, values and aspirations into the fore. These efforts by Indigenous communities both challenge the dominant development paradigms imposed from the top and contribute to identifying information gaps in the existing frameworks for their needs and purposes. Of critical importance in all papers is the involvement of Indigenous peoples and communities on the ground to articulate and express their understandings and aspirations for sustainable development.

The first of two papers based in Aoteroa/New Zealand illustrates a collective effort of five iwis (tribal group), Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Hauiti, Ngāti Tamakopiri, Ngai Te Ohuake, and Ngāti Whitikaupeka, to develop an information framework, Te Kete Tū-Ātea to make informed decisions for their people and future generations. The development of key dimensions of success identified by tribal leaders and members provide the iwis with localised, relevant information, thereby exercising Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and Rangatiratanga (self-determination) over their development aspirations and information about themselves.

We then move on to the Ruapehu Whānau Transformation Plan, an indigenous framework of development by Ngāti Rangi. The plan is centred around Indigenous values but working with the broader collective of Indigenous and non-Indigenous population in the north island of Aotearoa. Importantly, the framework, Indigenous-led, collectively designed and driven was built around the concept of whānau (family) as important collective units where pathways of transformation can occur and families are supported to realise their own aspirations.

We end with insights for the Purépecha community of Cuanajo, México and their insights into holistic health in the development of health related quality of life measure. The paper demonstrates that improving health outcomes must involve both expansion of health agency and agency by ensuring that community participates meaningfully in conceiving health-related measures. This will help ensure that programs aimed at improving public health recognise and consider the complexity of traditional and modern influences on one’s health and lifestyle.

Indigenous peoples and communities make two important contributions to the idea of sustainable development. First, Indigenous perspectives offer a different starting point for conceptualising sustainable development. Secondly, Indigenous peoples provide unique and much-needed contributions to conversations about the principles of setting sustainable development goals, targets and indicators. The papers in this panel session demonstrate these contributions. In so doing, the panel details how indigenous methods, worldviews and values are critical to the success of conceptualising and developing measures that reflect Indigenous aspirations and therefore should form part of the basis of any monitoring framework and evidence base towards achieving a sustainable future where no one is left behind.

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