Examining the role of and potential for Indigenous and social learning through community-based solid waste management in Canadian First Nation communities

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Assuah, Anderson
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The literature on municipal solid waste (MSW) management on First Nations in Canada outlines numerous challenges requiring attention. Learning among community members about the existing systems can be important for improving MSW management in communities. This study examined the role of and potential for Indigenous learning and social learning theory in managing MSW in First Nations and how learning can result in lasting outcomes. A social constructivist worldview guided the research and provided participants the opportunity to share their lived experiences with MSW management in their communities, which have been influenced by interactions with other community members and their history. A qualitative, multiple-case study of Peguis First Nation and Heiltsuk Nation was employed, utilizing semi-structured interviews, workshops, and participant observation as data collection methods. Fifty-two participants were involved in the research, including: Hereditary Chiefs, Elders, community leaders/members who spearheaded MSW management initiatives, community members participating in initiatives, and staff in charge of community programs. The data shows that Indigenous learning and social learning occurred among participants in both communities through processes, such as discussions with close family members, ceremonies, band meetings, and discussions with waste management employees. Moreover, learning resulted in behavioural and attitudinal changes, including reusing materials, reducing waste generation and recycling, avoiding complex packaging, and feeding food to animals instead of treating it as waste. Additionally, cultural factors such as avoiding waste, taking care of each other, protecting/taking care of the land, and connection to the land were also found to impact MSW management in both communities. Collective action outcomes also manifested themselves in the form of encouraging community members, friends, and family to clean up their spaces and participating in community clean-ups. The study suggests incorporating concepts of MSW management in traditional ways of learning, such as ceremonies and storytelling, to create awareness and understanding of the issues. There is also a great need to embark on educational and outreach programs to encourage community members to participate in waste diversion programs, particularly in Peguis First Nation.
Solid waste management, Municipal solid waste management, First Nations, Indigenous learning, Social learning, Cultural factors, Recycling, Composting, Canada