The Assembly First Nations’ (AFN) Environment unit supports First Nations exercising their Inherent and Treaty rights over all terrestrial, aquatic and ocean habitats and resources, while facilitating and coordinating national First Nations perspectives on policy, program and legislative developments.
Relying upon the leadership and direction of two Chiefs Committees – the Advisory Committee on Climate Action and the Environment (ACCAE) and the National Fisheries Committee (NFC) – and with a direct focus on the advancement of Indigenous Knowledge Systems through the support of the AFN Elders Council, the Environment unit functions to enhance the exercise of First Nations’ self-determination and jurisdiction within the context of the natural environment.
Environmental and Regulatory Reviews
In June 2016, the Government of Canada announced the review of key environmental and regulatory legislation, including the modernization of the National Energy Board (NEB), Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), the Fisheries Act, and the Navigation Protection Act (NPA). Under the direction of the ACCAE and NFC, the Environment unit is involved in this review to engage in a focused dialogue with First Nations to substantively identify, recognize and engage the protocols, elements and processes to conduct joint legislative drafting.
The Environment unit works with the National Fisheries Committee to support the self-determination and jurisdiction of First Nations over all fisheries resources. In accordance with the mandates received through resolutions, the Environment unit is aligned to respond, support and promote a broad range of priority issues by achieving a balance between sustainable economies, environmental protection and the assertion of Aboriginal rights, and includes First Nation perspectives from across Canada, including all coastal, northern and inland regions.
In the face of a rapidly changing climate, First Nations have much to contribute to global climate action. First Nations’ collective knowledge, as observers, stewards, and interpreters of ecosystems, offers invaluable insight to lead and complement action on climate change. Led by the Advisory Committee on Climate Action and the Environment, the Environment unit works to support the critical role of Indigenous peoples in climate mitigation and adaptation efforts to drive an evolution towards more sustainable growth and economic development.
The federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) provides for the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of biological diversity, in accordance with Canada’s commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The SARA is also the only piece of federal legislation that explicitly recognizes the role of Indigenous Peoples in the administration and implementation of the Act. The Environment unit is working with officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to support the direct inclusion of First Nations interests in species protection and conservation across Canada.
Indigenous Protected and Conservation Areas
Working as part of Canada’s “Pathway to Canada Target 1” initiative, the Environment unit is seeking to support the assertion of First Nations’ protected and conservation areas whereby First Nations are able to exercise their jurisdiction over broad swaths of their territories, and to have these areas recognized in Canada and in an international context.
In addition to the major headings above, the Environment unit continues to work with First Nation representatives on a range of other issues, in partnership with both other federal departments (e.g., Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada) and a variety of academic institutions (e.g., the University of Ottawa, McGill, Dalhousie). The Environment unit is also in the process of exploring other areas of advocacy and collaboration in concert with the direction received from the Chiefs-in-Assembly and the NFC and ACCAE.