Australia re-imagines a sustainable Indigenous future at Expo 2020 Dubai

In a bid to re-imagine a sustainable future for Indigenous people the world over, six First Nations Australian stakeholders were represented, shared theirs innovative work projects and insights at the Te Aratini Festival of Indigenous & Tribal Ideas event, organised by New Zealand at Expo 2020 Dubai. In a World Expo first, they touched upon various topics related to holistic socio-economic development, through language and values, caring for country models and tribal food systems to restore, connect and activate economic independence and empowerment for Indigenous people. 

Australian Government’s research shows that Indigenous owned companies see export as the pathway to growth. A cohort of 24 Indigenous companies that were exporting goods and services from Australia to global markets have been joined by 50 more this year. Additionally, 54 percent of Indigenous companies are being led or owned by women. Besides exports, Indigenous businesses also benefit from carbon credits due to their traditional land and sea management practices.  And restoring Indigenous languages and protecting copyrights and patents from oral traditions, are also essential supporting initiatives to ensure Indigenous businesses can thrive. 

Encouraging Indigenous businesses

Hon. Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, Government of Australia, provided pre-recorded content at the Te Aratini Festival by speaking about Indigenous businesses in Australia going from strength to strength and embracing opportunities. Six years ago, when the Australian Government first introduced its Indigenous Procurement Policy, around $6 million of Australian Government contracts were going to Indigenous business. Last financial year, 10,920 government contracts with a total value of $1.09 billion were awarded to 943 Indigenous businesses. Under the Indigenous Procurement Policy, an Australian Government Department looking to procurement something in remote Australia, or something worth between $80,000 and $200,000, must try to use an Indigenous business to deliver the work before approaching the market. Also, a mandatory minimum Indigenous participation must be included in contracts over A$7.5 million.

In a pre-recorded message entitled, ‘Beyond supplier diversity targets to Indigenous businesses growth and scalability,’ Hon. Ken Wyatt said: “Under the Indigenous Procurement Policy, Indigenous companies thrive when they’re part of mainstream, economic advancement. But more importantly, most Indigenous owned companies tend to employ our people, skilling them and giving them job opportunities of a nature that they’ve not had before...My final dream, is to see an Aboriginal companies in the top 200 companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange; functional and operating well.”

Investing back into Indigenous businesses

Laura Berry, CEO, Supply Nation, a company that helps shape the rapidly evolving Indigenous business sector in Australia, spoke about helping to foster connections between corporate and government sectors and Indigenous businesses. “Indigenous businesses need to extend globally and connect with other similar businesses across the world, they need to think beyond borders. Countries with large Indigenous populations need to do more to promote their businesses to benefit their economies. We have calculated that for every dollar spent on them, Indigenous businesses produce on average social return of 4.41 dollars, so there is a strong case for investing back into growing these businesses.”

Creating value with Carbon Credits

Dean Munuggullumurr Yibarbuk, Founding Director, Indigenous Carbon Industry Network (ICIN) also provided contributions to the Te Aratini Festival. ICIN enables Indigenous carbon producers and Traditional Owners of carbon projects to benefit from carbon markets through their land and sea management practices by supporting an active network of Indigenous carbon businesses and supporting agencies. On 6th September 2021 and in line with creating value with carbon credits, the Australian Emissions Reduction Fund issued it's 100 millionth Australian Carbon Credit Unit (ACCU) to Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation. 

Indigenous languages revival

On a social development note, Craig Ritchie spoke about the revival of hitherto dormant Indigenous Australian languages. He said: “Technology has taken an important role in supporting language documentation and strengthening. An innovative, Indigenous-led use of digital technology is the First Voices project, which supports Indigenous people to directly archive their languages by recording and uploading words, phrases, songs, and stories to a secure centralized database. You will be pleased to know that Australia has had success in Language Reawakening projects – bringing back languages where they no longer had speakers. The Kaurna community of Adelaide has been able to learn their ancestral language and now have several high-level speakers. They are bringing up their children in Kaurna, producing the first native speakers in nearly a century.”

Justin McGowan, Commissioner General of Australia at Expo 2020 Dubai, concluded: “It has been a privilege to work alongside New Zealand at the Te Aratini Festival of Indigenous & Tribal Ideas as part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Inclusivity and Diversity Week. By promoting Indigenous interests in trade and investment, we are bringing to the fore a people that have an innate knowledge of sustainable development. Not only do they have the expertise in age old farming techniques, but today they are also well equipped to lead the digital world. We are delighted to bring our Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesspeople to shape the conversation at Te Aratini Festival and continue to promote all-round development of Indigenous cultures, languages and commerce.”

Other Australian speakers at Te Aratini Festival of Indigenous & Tribal Ideas at Expo 2020 Dubai included:; Joe Ross AO, Managing Director, Bunuba Cultural Conservation Institute; Vanessa Farrelly, Pertame Research Officer; June Oscar AO, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner; and Eric Brace, Programs Director, Australian Literacy & Numeracy Foundation.

The Te Aratini Festival of Indigenous & Tribal Ideas highlighted the untapped potential that Indigenous & Tribal Peoples offer toward a world that embraces shared, sustainable, and radically inclusive prosperity. It helped ignite new connections and aimed to forge sophisticated partnerships and enduring coalitions to address the issues facing our world now, and into the future.