Environmental Stewardship

The Environmental Stewardship Unit works on a broad spectrum of international, national and regional/local environmental issues.  The ESU has a mandate to conduct research, develop policy, and advocate on behalf of First Nations, in a manner consistent with the recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights as they relate to environmental stewardship. Generally, the Unit pursues more specific initiatives to deal with fish, forestry, biological diversity and climate change, among other things.  Improvements in the state of the environment will help to strengthen the health and well-being of First Nations communities.

The traditional philosophy of First Nations is centered on the holistic view that everything is interconnected.  Humanity is part of the ecosystem.  First Nation peoples live closer to the land and are more directly affected by environmental degradation than most other Canadians.  First Nations recognize the link between the health of the environment and the health of their people.  They have experienced the ravages of poor environmental stewardship first hand including contaminated lands, air, water, traditional foods and medicines.

From the broadest perspective, the work of the Environmental Stewardship Unit is described within the context of the four basic elements: EARTH, AIR, WATER and FIRE.  A healthy environment means undertaking measures to protect these elements from the entry of any deleterious substance that could compromise their quality.  A healthy environment also means that risks to human health are being effectively controlled; that the negative effects of exposure to harmful substances are minimized.  First Nations’ aspirations include relying upon traditional ways of life with the security that these activities pose no risk to health.

Many First Nations continue to assert that they have the responsibility to protect the environment for future generations.  First Nation communities represent the youngest, fastest growing segment of the Canadian population.  While the pursuit of economic opportunities for First Nations and others must be supported, this must be done in a way that retains a balance with the environment.  Economic activity cannot come at the expense of environmental sustainability.

“More recently, many scientists have begun to understand that such traditional knowledge extends far beyond what in western science would be called descriptive biology, beyond knowing how to identify different species of animals, or describe their feeding, reproduction, or migratory behaviour.  The knowledge possessed by such tradition-based, non-industrial societies is essentially of an "ecological" nature, that is to say, it seeks to understand and explain the workings of ecosystems, or at the very least biological communities, containing many interacting species of animals and often plants, and the determinative role played by certain key biological and physical parameters in influencing the behaviour of the total biological community.”

“The Nature and Utility of Traditional Ecological Knowledge” by Milton M. R. Freeman

Contact Us:

If you have questions or comments about our work or any environmental issues you are working on please contact us at:

Environmental Stewardship Unit
Assembly of First Nations
55 Metcalfe Street, Suite 1600
Ottawa, ON   K1P 6L5

Environment telephone:
(613) 241-6789

(613) 241-5808


Assembly of First Nations