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National Chief Chief Shawn Atleo speaks to the Assembly of First Nations in Moncton on July 12, 2011.David Smith/The Canadian Press

The leader of the Assembly of First Nations and a small group of native government and business leaders have travelled to China to discuss economic development partnerships opportunities.

The AFN, the national representative of more than 630 first nations is Canada, says the trade mission could be the first of many visits to foreign countries that offer the potential of trade and investment in its communities.

"First Nations recognize the growing importance of Asian markets, and the opportunity to seek out a competitive advantage to expand economic opportunities for first nations and all of Canada," National Chief Sean Atleo said in a release issued Friday, the day he and the other members of the delegation departed.

"First Nations have innovative plans for community-based sustainable economic development," he said, "and we are reaching out to partners nationally and internationally for opportunities that work for our peoples and communities."

The AFN has been asked by first nation leaders from across Canada to help them develop international relationships. More and more first nations and other aboriginal communities have been saying they welcome development within their territories as long as it is done in a way that is environmentally sustainable and respectful of their rights.

Among other things, Mr. Atleo and the trade-mission delegates plan to visit the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and to participate in the opening of the First Nation Grain Management office in Dalian.

They will also attend the raising of a totem pole near a newly constructed museum in the city of Beichuan, which was ravaged by an earthquake in 2008. The totem pole will be presented to the people of Beichuan by Ed John, the Grand Chief of the First Nations Summit in British Columbia, on behalf of first nations across Canada.