Solid waste management is a climate change issue. The decay and combustion of solid waste contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane and nitrous oxide. Indigenous communities that do not have adequate solid waste management systems face challenges to their health, safety, land and water. Additional funding and community education can benefit Indigenous communities to meet the environmental challenges of solid waste management more effectively.

Solid waste is often referred to as garbage. Solid waste management involves “collecting, treating, and disposing of solid material,” which is thrown away because it is deemed to be no longer useful. If waste is not managed properly, it can result in environmental pollution, vector-borne diseases spread by rats and insects, and outcomes associated with poor sanitation. Improper waste disposal techniques in managing landfill wastes can result in the leaching of contaminants (i.e., leachates) into well water, ground water, and surrounding surface waters (e.g., lakes, rivers, and streams).

Two First Nation communities facing challenges to solid waste management are those of the Garden Hill First Nation and Wasagamack First Nation in Northern Manitoba. In 2018, a research study outlined how both Garden Hill and Wasagamack communities resorted to open dumping and burning toxic waste, including styrofoam and electronic waste (i.e., e-waste) in backyards disposal pits, because of poor infrastructure for safe and effective solid waste disposal and management. The study asked Indigenous community members to identify key issues in solid waste management that required attention; these included:

  • Lack of waste management for toxic wastes including plastic and e-waste.
  • Lack of funds dedicated for waste management.
  • Lack of curbside waste collection, leading to the proliferation of multiple community garbage dumps, including in backyards, and close to homes.
  • Lack of enforcement of environmental regulations by federal governments on dumping by off-reserve contractors.
  • How “reserves provide a black hole for toxic waste, stewarded products, and recyclables.”

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has called for funding for First Nation communities to increase the capacity of landfill and transfer stations, to store or accommodate wastes, and to innovate sustainable solutions to solid waste management. Projects like a proposed engineered wetland in Wasagamack First Nation hold the potential to reduce the adverse effects of leaching and its residual effects. The human-made wetland would use phytoremediation—a mitigation practice of introducing native plants in former disposal pits to reduce the concentration of leachates contaminating the environment. Educational projects like the Seventh Generation Waste Warriors are also promising, to inform Indigenous youth about how to develop waste diversion projects in their own communities. The lack of funding to both rural and urban Indigenous communities for solid waste management is corroborated in a 2021 report by Indigenous Services Canada that evaluated the First Nations Solid Waste Management Initiative (FNSWMI), a program that funds Indigenous solid waste management initiatives.

Indigenous communities need adequate and sustained funding to design, operate, and maintain solid waste management systems. Community education programs that foster collaborative approaches also deserve focused attention.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Sara Cottle, Unsplash)

Natural hazards are one of the top seven climate change risks to Indigenous peoples’ health, as reported by Health Canada. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a natural hazard is not a human-made hazard; it is “an environmental phenomena that [has] the potential to impact societies and the human environment.” The Canadian Disaster Database offers an inventory of disasters affecting Canadians since 1900.

Natural hazards include:

  • Avalanches
  • Earthquakes
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes
  • Landslides
  • Severe storms
  • Storm surges
  • Tornadoes
  • Tsunamis
  • Wildfires

Natural hazards in the form of extreme weather and climate emergencies, like fires and floods, can cause land degradation, including permafrost degradation, and the destruction of spaces of cultural and environmental significance. These effects can increase the risk of human injury and fatalities as well as the loss of Indigenous traditional knowledge and skills about working with the land.

Indigenous peoples may become displaced from their traditional territories, as a result of natural hazards in a changing climate. Consequently, the emotional health of Indigenous peoples must also be considered in relation to climate-induced displacement. Much of the research in this area has focused on the lives of Inuit living in the Arctic, and more research is needed that involves other Indigenous communities.

Chapter 2 of the Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate: Advancing Our Knowledge for Action describes hazard mapping in Kashechewan First Nation and Peavin Métis Settlement’s FireSmart Program as ways of managing natural hazards and enhancing Indigenous health.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Raychel Sanner, Unsplash)