Helping to ensure that waterways are protected to sustain First Nations' ways of life.

Our Work We advocate for First Nations-led policies that protect our waters and marine biodiversity.

The global biodiversity crisis poses a serious threat to First Nations, for whom water is life. Yet while Indigenous communities are shown to do a better job of managing natural resources, First Nations voices aren’t readily heard when it comes to conservation. The Assembly’s Water Sector advocates for First Nations’ water stewardship rights from coast to coast to coast in the interest of protecting our waters and the biodiversity that sustains us all.

Initiatives & Priorities The policy areas, initiatives and committees driving change toward First Nations' water stewardship.

Marine Conservation

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) are a key conservation tool that can empower First Nations’ stewardship responsibilities over our lands and waters. The 2018 Indigenous Circle of Experts (ICE) report made key recommendations to support implementing IPCAs as a means to further Indigenous reconciliation in Canada while contributing to the Government of Canada’s conservation targets. Progress has been made since then to support establishing IPCAs on land, however, work in marine areas continues to lag behind and there is no explicit legal recognition for IPCAs in any federal, provincial or territorial protected areas legislation in Canada.

In December 2021, First Nations-in-Assembly passed Resolution 41/2021 – Marine Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs), mandating the AFN’s continued advocacy for a federal commitment to support establishing marine IPCAs.

From this mandate, the AFN Water Sector created a Marine IPCA sub-working group in January 2022 under the Advisory Committee on Climate Action and the Environment (ACE) to identify priorities, commonalities and issues related to establishing IPCAs in marine and coastal areas. The sub-working group is finalizing a report that details opportunities and further describes key short-term and long-term recommendations for overcoming the hurdles that are preventing the wide establishment of marine IPCAs in Canada. Once finalized, we anticipate that this report will be shared broadly with First Nations, other Indigenous organizations and the Government of Canada.

Sustainable Development

The Government of Canada agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda), a United Nations (UN) Resolution that was adopted in 2015. The 2030 Agenda calls on states to take action on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as poverty, hunger, climate change, water and environmental stewardship. First Nations leaders and Indigenous organizations have been involved in the UN processes that led to the development of the 2030 Agenda and continue to participate internationally to advance Indigenous rights.

In the Spring of 2018, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released a report on the Government of Canada’s preparedness to implement the SDGs. The report provided a critique of Canada’s poor implementation of the SDGs. In response, the Government of Canada announced in 2019 that it would develop its own domestic strategy to implement the SDGs and also established the SDG Unit under Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to undertake this work.

In February 2021, the Government of Canada released the 2030 Agenda National Strategy: Moving Forward Together. This was followed by the Federal Implementation Plan for the 2030 Agenda Strategy. First Nations were not engaged in either process.

Getting First Nations Feedback on Implementing SDGs

Under Resolution 44/2021 – Support for a First Nations-led Pathway to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Water Sector advocates for First Nations leadership and participation in implementing the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. In March 2022, the sector successfully hosted its first-ever virtual forum to discuss First Nations’ priorities for sustainable development.

Building on the forum, the sector also hosted two virtual dialogue sessions on October 14 and October 17, 2022. A survey is being prepared to gather input on:

  • Perceived gaps in the current SDG framework
  • Advice related to existing federal mechanisms around the SDGs
  • First Nations’ own mechanisms and initiatives around sustainable development
  • Environment, lands and water priorities under the SDGs.

Water Protection from Nuclear Waste

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is the organization responsible for the long-term management of nuclear waste in Canada. In 2007, NWMO selected Adaptive Phased Management (APM) as the process for the storage of used nuclear fuel. Under this process, used nuclear fuel will be isolated and stored in a deep geological repository (DGR) which must contain suitable geology.

APM engaged in a three-year dialogue with specialists and the public between 2002 and 2005. The AFN was tasked to support a dialogue with First Nations. In 2005, the AFN produced a report with final recommendations on the APM process, ultimately stating that First Nations were not prepared to comment on the Government of Canada’s plan for storing used nuclear fuel. First Nations advised that they needed sufficient time to study the issues and risks associated with the APM process and the storage of spent fuel in DGRs. First Nations also advised the AFN that they needed adequate capacity to comment on Canada’s plan and sought further support to allow them to participate effectively in decision-making.

The NWMO proceeded with selecting sites for DGR locations. In 2022, two final locations were selected, the Municipality of South Bruce and the Township of Ignace, both in Ontario.

Under various resolutions (48/2017; 39/2005; 51/2003; 103/99), the AFN Water Sector is mandated to ensure that First Nations are fully informed about the APM process and able to make an educated and informed decision when it comes to nuclear waste on or near their lands, territories and waterways.

International Freshwater and Marine Biodiversity

Signed in 1992, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international agreement covering all aspects of biological diversity:

  • Conservation of biological diversity
  • Sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
  • Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

The broad scope of the CBD is implemented domestically through multiple pieces of environmental federal legislation and policies, such as the Species at Risk Act, Pathway to Canada Target 1, the Fisheries Act and the Aquaculture Act.

The Water Sector is working with the AFN Environment Sector on international advocacy to drive Canada’s commitment to First Nations-led conservation at the Fifteenth Conference of Parties (COP 15), taking place in Montreal, Quebec in December 2022. COP 15 marks an important opportunity for the AFN to raise the profile of First Nations’ leadership in biodiversity conservation. Our efforts have focused on advocating for the respect and recognition of First Nations’ rights in the development of the new Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The goals and targets set under this framework will guide global conservation efforts for the next decade and in turn, shape the Government of Canada’s biodiversity policies across a wide range of legislation and initiatives. Outcomes from COP 15 will shape discussions at IMPAC 5, especially regarding commitments to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. IMPAC 5 provides a significant opportunity to advance First Nations-led conservation in the marine and coastal environment, such as through the establishment of marine Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs).

Documents The latest resources on this topic.

View All 11 Documentsarrow_forward
These are our latest reports, resolutions and other documents on the subject of Water Stewardship. To see more documents on this topic, and all other public AFN documents, visit the Document Library.

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