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Indigenous cultural practices can enhance the management of waste in communities


Disclosure statement

Anderson Assuah does not work for or consult with, have shares in, or receive funds from any business or organization that would benefit from this article. Anderson Assuah has declared no affiliations relevant to their academic position.

Many communities face historic operational, structural, and organizational challenges, including insufficient capacity and a lack of funds. Many communities lack recycling programs, including waste diversion. These challenges hamper community efforts to enhance MSW management habits, attitudes, and behaviors.

However, specific communities are still pushing for better MSW management strategies by creating strategies and seeking to implement recycling programs like recycling and composting.

These methods, however, have been unable to incorporate or consider the cultural values of First Nations in the technique of identifying solutions to MSW issues. First Nation’s lifestyle is deeply rooted in their traditional culture. This implies that any MSW methods of management that aim to improve the conditions of communities should be based on their distinct traditions.

These are issues that require focus and which community members are eager to discuss for solutions specific to the community.

What is the impact of culture on MSW management?

I am a settler, non-Indigenous researcher who works with Indigenous communities across Canada in MSW management.

Community-based activities, such as cleaning up the spring season, are vital to protecting the environment. (Anderson Assuah) Author supplied (no reuse)

My most recent research in partnership with 52 community members of the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba and Heiltsuk Nation in British Columbia, outlines five cultural elements that affect community members in municipal disposal practices.

  • Be mindful of waste: taking just what is needed and not throwing away anything from the earth or in the air. For instance, the community members use all the elements of a hunted animal.
  • Care for one another: Sharing food items, especially with friends and family members, and not hoarding reduces food waste.
  • Protecting the environment: Avoiding pollution and pollution of the environment or the land and ensuring that it is kept clean.
  • Respecting the land by adhering to the laws of Mother Earth since it is the source of the life of all living things.
  • Connecting to land Feeling and being aware of the land and its environment.

The primary purpose of these practices, the community members said, is to reduce the excess resource consumption that is the basis of society’s throw-away culture and to preserve the environment for the next generation. These practices in the culture of their communities force them to consider a different way to manage their waste.

We are tackling waste today.

Many Indigenous communities have formed deep connections with their environment that have nourished their existence for generations.

The Seven Grandfather Principles -Respect and honesty, love, courage, humility, and wisdom have mainly guided First Nations in their relationships with the land and others – both living and not living.

However, applying these critical lessons and the five cultural factors mentioned above in managing municipal waste was rare in the communities that we studied due to an increase in MSW production, as per residents of the communities.

The increasing production of solid waste from municipal sources in specific First Nations communities obstructs the use of traditional values in its management. (Anderson Assuah) Author’s permission (no reuse)

Most people we spoke to said applying culture principles, values, and beliefs to manage MSW could be much better. One person said, “When I see trash on the streets and in the waterways, it is a disconnection from our cultural values. Our culture is to take care of the land, respect it, and then leave it the way you found it.”

Another participant revealed that:

“A lot of people ignore our culture when it comes to waste management… However, if you are taught to protect the land, then you need to care more about recycling…The culture here has died compared to when I was a child, because everybody cleaned the environment, and you attended ceremonies to learn how things are done.”

The legacy of restrictions on gatherings for cultural purposes and policies that promote assimilation continue to impact Indigenous communities even to this day negatively.

For instance, when for example, by forcefully shifting First Nations to isolated or remote territories from their former colonies, they are dependent on packaged goods, which increases waste production. Many communities that were nomads based on the land became more sedentary, leaving them confused as they dealt with the large quantities of waste they generated.

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Jane S. King

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