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Canadian and Australian Indigenous organisations strike historic agreement on collaboration and solidarity

Giovanni Torre -

A unique international agreement has been struck between key Indigenous-led organisations in Australia and Canada that prioritises Indigenous collaboration and diplomacy in seeking to address the entrenched economic exclusion and lack of opportunity of Indigenous peoples in the two countries.

On Thursday 16 November in Gatineau, south western Quebec, Canada, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between key Canadian First Nations financial institutions: the First Nations Financial Management Board and the First Nations Finance Authority, and key Australian Indigenous-led organisations: the Australian National University's First Nations Portfolio; First Australians Capital; the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation; and the National Native Title Council.

In a joint statement the signatories noted that the Indigenous peoples in Australia and Canada share a similar history marked by the dispossession of their lands and waters, the denial of their rights, systematic exclusion from the economy and from opportunities for wealth creation.

"This exclusion and marginalisation of Indigenous peoples from economic opportunities is an ongoing issue in both Australia and Canada," they said.

The agreement is an historic move to encourage closer ties and collaboration between First Nations organisations, committed to advancing economic reconciliation in Australia and Canada.

Formalising an "already strong relationship" between the organisations developed over the past 18 months, the agreement commits the parties to working together on matters of shared concern, including collaborative research, the exchange of knowledge and ideas, as well as facilitating staff exchange and other reciprocal opportunities in both countries.

The MOU is an example of Indigenous-led international collaboration and diplomacy. Involving multiple key institutions in Australia and Canada, it will be a platform for advancing collaboration to improve better economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples, and broader economic reconciliation in the two countries.

Acknowledging that the economic rights and interests of Indigenous peoples is a matter of global concern, the agreement enhances the importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as "a critical consideration and important standard" in addressing matters related to opportunities and the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia.

The agreement adds an "outward looking, international, dimension" to struggles in both countries of Indigenous peoples, to confront and address barriers to economic exclusion and participation.

National Native Title Council CEO Jamie Lowe said the parties to the MOU work to support the economic self-determination of First Nations in Canada and Australia.

"This means creating strong First Nations industries with culturally appropriate investment opportunities and access to capital. We will work together to support First Nations leadership in strong agreement-making that results in equity and community owned projects and development," he said.

"Although we are culturally distinct and diverse, our Australian and Canadian brothers and sisters share a long history of cultural resistance and strength. We benefit from working together to create opportunities for our communities."

Australian National University Vice President (First Nations) Peter Yu described the MOU as "an important milestone" in the developing relationship between First Nations peoples and agencies from Australia and Canada.

"It demonstrates the important shared historical experiences and common commitment to First Nations economic empowerment as fundamental to our selfdetermination. As mandated by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the MOU is significant to our shared responsibilities towards bringing greater government and corporate world responsibilities in developing and adopting global standards and measures, regarding the rights and interests of Indigenous people," he said.

First Australians Capital chairperson Leah Armstrong said the group was "excited by the opportunity to grow global collaborations".

"Our shared histories and pursuits on reconciliation and self-determination provide the foundations for advancing Indigenous economic rights and wealth creation," she said.

Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation CEO Joe Morrison said "People and Country is at the heart of why the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation was established".

"We work in partnership with First Nations peoples so they can achieve self-determination through the return of their Country," he said.

President and chief executive of Canada's First Nations Finance Authority, Ernie Daniels, said the Authority is "enthusiastic to be signing this historic Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian National University and our First Nation Financial Management Authority sister institutions".

"This MOU will allow us to start the conversation about how we can collaborate to advance Indigenous economic reconciliation in Australia and Canada," he said.

Executive chair of Canada's First Nations Financial Management Board, Harold Calla, said the agreement is "an important next step in our expanding relationship with First Nations partners in Australia".

"Our connections have grown in recent years and this agreement reflects our shared awareness of the benefits greater collaboration will yield in business opportunities, economic development, and the preservation of cultural assets. We still have much to learn from each other," he said.

"Indigenous Peoples in Canada and Australia have similar histories in the hardships caused by colonialism. In recent years, we've strengthened our bilateral relationships and recognised the tremendous potential in sharing insights, experiences, and solutions. This MOU commits us to further our relationship in ways that will foster economic development and wealth creation for First Nation Peoples in both countries. – and our countries as a whole."

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