Promoting First Nations stewardship and sustainable development to protect our ecosystems and contend with climate change.

Our Work We support First Nations in exercising their rights in the interest of protecting the environment.

Climate change, polluted waterways, disruptions to traditional hunting grounds, and the defacing of culturally sensitive lands have a dire impact on quality of life for First Nations, many of whom have long relied on the land for sustenance. The AFN’s Environment Sector advocates for First Nations in exercising self-determination and jurisdiction over environmental issues to protect Mother Earth and support sustainable economic development.

Mercury-poisoned fish produces chronic health issues in many First Nations communities.

Communities that rely on waterways present with more disabilities, mental health issues, unemployment, and suicides.

Extinction and changing wildlife migration patterns make it difficult for First Nations to hunt.

Industry and climate change are causing changes that require many First Nations communities to adapt their hunting patterns or travel further to hunt.

Rising sea levels and storm surges are placing cultural sites at risk.

Climate change is putting cultural sites at risk of being lost, damaged or permanently destroyed.

Major changes to the environment impact the passing of Traditional Knowledge to new generations.

Without consistent patterns in the environment and wildlife, sources of medicines, food, and spiritual or ceremonial sites will be lost.

Overview Working to advance the application of First Nations’ self-determination within the areas of environmental protection.

First Nations have a special relationship with the earth and all living things in it. This relationship is based on a profound spiritual connection and inherent responsibility to Mother Earth that guides First Nations Peoples to practice reverence, humility, and reciprocity.

Up to 80% of the world’s biodiversity is located on the traditional lands and territories of Indigenous Peoples. This is because Indigenous Peoples have resisted unsustainable industrial practices on their lands, as well as supported the flourishing of biodiversity through the application of Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

Yet worldwide, the evidence remains clear: we face an ongoing environmental crisis.

The AFN continues to advocate in support of the leadership, resilience, and innovation of First Nations in environmental protection, and works to ensure our collective well-being and decision-making are appropriately rooted in our First Nations’ worldview.

While acknowledging diversity, a worldview has a common foundation: an understanding that we come from the land, and we are one with Mother Earth.

Initiatives & Priorities The policy areas, initiatives and committees driving change in environmental regulation and climate change.

Conservation and Biodiversity

Conservation is a fundamental tenet of First Nations practices. It is because of this that First Nations have an important role to play in the conservation and protection of the environment, particularly with respect to their lands and traditional territories. To this end, the AFN remains steadfast in its efforts to advocate for the support of First Nations- led conservation, including the establishment of well-connected networks of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and First Nations Guardians, as critical mechanisms for First Nations to exercise traditional responsibilities, methods of governance, authority and on the land management and stewardship practices.

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs)

The AFN Environment Sector has maintained its involvement in the Pathway Initiative, which has included ongoing participation on the Pathway National Steering Committee (NSC) in addition to Co-Chairing the NSC IPCA Working Group. Despite continued efforts, progress on terrestrial conservation and IPCAs has slowed in recent months, as Canada awaits the finalization of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) which is expected to take place at the upcoming 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the CBD in December 2022 in Montreal, QC. The Sector has continued to build meaningful and effective partnerships in support of First Nations-led conservation. This has included membership with the Conservation Through Reconciliation Partnership as directed by Resolution 45/2021.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

The CBD is a United Nations Treaty that was signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 and entered into force on December 29, 1993. It is the first global agreement to cover all aspects of biological diversity: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

Impact Assessment and Life Cycle Regulation of Energy Projects

First Nations have long pushed for a greater role and decision-making authority over major development projects in their lands and territories. The 2019 Impact Assessment Act (IAA) and Canadian Energy Regulator Act (CER Act) provide opportunities for enhanced First Nations’ participation in impact assessment and lifecycle regulation of energy projects. Specific areas of implementation include the development of an Indigenous Knowledge Policy Framework, Indigenous capacity support programs, and Indigenous Cooperation Agreement Regulation (ICAR) and Policy.

Resolution 06/2019 Respecting First Nations inherent and constitutionally – protected rights in the Project List for the Impact Assessment Act

Impact Assessment and Life Cycle Regulation of Energy Project Mandates

  • Call on Canada to ensure that regulatory and policy development fully respects the constitutional and other legal obligations of the Crown to First Nations and standards set by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Resolution 69/2018)
  • Pursue a commitment from Canada for co-development of policies, regulations and guidelines and the creation of a body which combines technical discussions, political oversight, and regional representation (Resolution 73/2017)
  • Call on Canada to engage in focused dialogue with First Nations to substantively identify, recognize, and engage the protocols, elements, and processes to conduct joint regulatory and policy drafting (Resolutions 69/2018, Resolution 06/2019)
  • Call upon Canada to meet or exceed precedent set in development and eventual passage of the Species at Risk Act – full, direct, and unfettered participation of First Nations (Resolution 73/2017)
  • Continue to support and coordinate interventions and participation of First Nations, regional organizations, and provincial territorial organizations in the co-development process, including creating regionally specific processes to address specific concerns and support provisions as part of nation-to-nation relationships (Resolutions 73/2017, 07/2018, 69/2018)
  • Advocate for adequate funding directly to First Nations for their full and effective participation (Resolutions 73/2017, 07/2018, 69/2018, 06/2019) and.
  • Conduct regional information sessions to support First Nations, regional organizations, and provincial/territorial organizations in the process (Resolutions 73/2017, 07/2018, 69/2018)

Environmental Health

The Food, Environment, Health and Nutrition of First Nations Children and Youth (FEHNCY) Study

FEHNCY was initiated by way of Resolution 04/2019 – Support for the Food, Environment, Health and Nutrition of Children and Youth (FEHNCY) Study – to address the knowledge gaps relating to the health of First Nations children and youth. FEHNCY will explore the relationships between nutrition, environment and health of First Nations children and youth aged 3-19 years old living on-reserve across Canada.

FEHNCY is a partnership between the Assembly of First Nations, University of Ottawa, Université Laval, Université de Montréal, McGill University and Health Canada. The study seeks to address the knowledge gaps relating to the health of First Nations children and youth. Find more information at

Nuclear Waste Management (NWMO)

Nuclear waste is generated in Canada from a variety of activities, including uranium mining, milling, refining and conversion; nuclear fuel fabrication; nuclear reactor operations; and nuclear research. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization has been tasked with the safe, long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel inside a deep geological repository.

The AFN is working to raise awareness, share knowledge and information, conduct research, and build capacity within First Nations on the nuclear waste management process, and in particular, the Adaptive Phase Management (APM) process which has the potential to impact First Nations across Turtle Island.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a prion disease (similar to mad cow disease) that affects the nervous system of cervid species. In Canada, this includes all types of deer, elk, moose, and caribou. It is incurable, always fatal, and highly contagious to these animals.

The potential impacts of CWD on First Nations are complex and cross-sectoral, including effects on species/habitat, food safety/security/sovereignty, environmental/human health, socio-cultural, economic, and Inherent/Treaty Rights.

Resolutions 58/2018, First Nations Response to Chronic Wasting Disease, 13/2017, Chronic Wasting Disease, and 70/2010, First Nation-controlled Awareness, Training & Surveillance Program for Chronic Wasting Disease set out a mandate for the AFN’s cross-sectoral work on CWD, calling for collaborative work with First Nations’, federal, provincial, and territorial governments as well as NGO’s and academia to mitigate and, as much as possible, prevent the potential impacts of the disease.

The AFN has advanced several priorities on these Resolutions, including establishing a CWD Sub-Working Group to the Advisory Committee on Climate Action and Environment (ACE), working collaboratively with all levels of government to advance wildlife health, and developing a discussion paper to outline First Nations concerns and recommended responses.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)

Environment Sector continues to participate on the ongoing review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) and associated legislative review process of Bill S-5 (An Act to Amend CEPA). This has included the successful submission and appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resource (ENEV).

First Nations Climate Action

Since the passing of Resolution 05/2019, Declaring a First Nations Climate Emergency, the AFN has advanced several priorities related to First Nations climate leadership. Recently, the 2nd AFN National Climate Gathering took place on September 27–29, 2022, in Fredericton, NB which will further help guide and advance the work on the AFN National Climate Strategy. Further development of the AFN National Climate Strategy has continued in collaboration with the ACE, including discussing new opportunities to advance specific action areas and objectives in addition to the continued development of the First Nations Climate Lens.

First Nations Climate Lens

First Nations Lens to Climate Action

A First Nations’ Climate lens advocates for a fundamental reframing of the climate discourse; it moves away from the overemphasis on technological solutions, towards a framing that emphasizes the centrality of First Nations’ governance, rights and knowledge systems. This proposes that a critical and decolonizing lens is essential for equitable, immediate and transformative action built on solutions that are holistic, multi-dimensional and interconnected. More information on the First Nations Climate Lens can be found here:

Joint Committee on Climate Action

The JCCA (Joint Committee on Climate Action) serves as a unique forum for equitable discussion between First Nation representatives and federal officials that aims at building relationship and facilitate the institutionalization of a co-development approaches to climate related solutions. The JCCA provides technical advice to facilitate real and meaningful approaches that allow positioning First Nations as leaders of climate action, and seeks to enable the participation of First Nations in Climate oriented decision making. It implies a full inclusion of First Nations knowledge and priorities, as well as the recognition of First Nations systems of governance in every step of federal climate policy and programming.

Our Path Forward identifies priority areas for the long-term objectives of the JCCA, charting five specific priorities:

  1. Accelerate First Nations’ full and effective participation in clean growth and climate change programs, including in the National Adaptation Strategy.
  2. Advance the development of First Nations Climate Leadership through meaningful dialogue with First Nations.
  3. Monitor and evaluate progress on First Nations Climate Leadership and the full and effective participation of First Nations in climate change programs.
  4. Develop new communication tools, including a stand-alone website, to improve transparency, accountability, and engagement throughout JCCA activities.
  5. Embed an intergenerational and inter sectional dialogue on climate change in all JCCA activities.


Documents The latest resources on this topic.

These are our latest reports, resolutions and other documents on the subject of Environmental Protection & Climate Action. To see more documents on this topic, and all other public AFN documents, visit the Document Library.

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