News Release

Indigenous Peoples Call for Greater Empowerment at CDB Annual Meeting Forum

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Members of the Eagles Singers performing at the Opening Ceremony of CDB's Annual Meeting

Indigenous leaders from across the Caribbean and Canada called for greater economic empowerment, participation in decision-making, and robust protection of rights at an Indigenous Peoples Forum which opened the Caribbean Development Bank's (CDB) 54th Annual Meeting today in Ottawa, Canada.

Entitled "Catalysing Caribbean-Canada Collaboration on Indigenous Peoples Affairs for Resilient Prosperity," the forum represented a key step in the Bank's ongoing efforts to tackle issues impacting the Region's Indigenous communities and promote their upliftment through cross-national collaboration. 

The event provided a platform for representatives to advocate for addressing systemic challenges facing their communities. Attendees included political leaders, community elders, and Indigenous rights advocates representing communities such as the Kalinago of Dominica, Garifuna of Belize, and First Nations across Canada.

"For generations, our voices have not been sufficiently elevated, and our invaluable contributions to sustainable development have been overlooked," said Hon. Cozier Frederick, Dominica's Minister for the Environment, Rural Modernization and Kalinago Upliftment.

In an impassioned address, the Minister, who is a member of the Kalinago People, commended the CDB for taking “a different approach”. He said, “We must all commit to championing the rights and inclusion of all indigenous peoples, ensuring that we are active partners in a journey toward a better future for all. It’s with utmost respect and honour that I join this very progressive development by CDB to ensure that voices of first nations across our region and Canada are respected.”

In a similar vein, other Indigenous speakers highlighted the disproportionate economic marginalisation their communities face due to the lack of opportunities, exploitation of natural resources, and land rights issues. They warned of the existential threat climate change poses to traditional ways of life honed over centuries.

"Our cultures, languages, spiritual practices, and the fragile environments sustaining our livelihoods and identity must be strengthened, preserved, and passed to future generations," urged Mr. Damon Corrie of the Lokono Arawaks, who advocated for a permanent Indigenous secretariat to centralise efforts.

Mr. Greg Sarazin, Chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nations, emphasised the strength and resilience of First Peoples. “The Algonquin nation was here occupying and defending our homelands where we have been since time immemorial. We are still here in 2024, and we will continue to be here for the next seven generations and beyond.”

Mrs. Therese Turner-Jones, CDB's Vice President, Operations (Ag), acknowledged the "disproportionate socioeconomic challenges" Indigenous Peoples confront and reaffirmed CDB's commitment to keep Indigenous voices central.

“We recognise and honour Indigenous peoples as the original inventors, healers, explorers, leaders, and contributors to sustainable development, through food security, biodiversity conservation, climate resilience, and more. Yet we acknowledge that there are barriers that they disproportionally face as a result of weak social and economic development, exploitation of natural resources, and threats to their knowledge systems,” Mrs. Turner-Jones said.

“We have, therefore, been working closely with Indigenous Peoples across the Region – under the guidance of an Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group – comprising Indigenous and tribal leaders some of whom are with us today,” she added.  

While seeking urgent action, leaders like Ms. Sheena Zuniga of Belize's Garifuna Council underscored the need for partnerships, stating "By leveraging our collective strengths and traditional ecological knowledge, we can catalyse collaborations benefiting Indigenous communities through truly sustainable development."

The Indigenous Peoples Forum is the first of several events which will be held between June 17 and 20, 2024 as the CDB stages its 54th Annual Meeting in Ottawa, Canada. The agenda includes knowledge sharing seminars that will tackle trade and logistics, labour market inequities and the potential of cultural industries to contribute to sustainable development.