Knowledge Resources & Publications


Webinar - Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives on climate change and water safety and security

March 2022


Climate change impacts, such as increased precipitation, flooding, and drought, can significantly affect the quality, quantity, and accessibility of water, exacerbating health risks and challenges already present in many Indigenous communities in Canada.

Considered life-giving and sacred by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, water is often used for ceremonial and cultural purposes. It is also needed to pursue cultural practices and livelihoods. Given the physical, emotional, and spiritual importance of water, greater Indigenous sovereignty is needed to protect Indigenous communities from environmental harms to the quantity, quality, and accessibility of water resources arising from climate change.

The webinar will include presentations by Dr. Kelsey Leonard, Dr. Deborah McGregor, Dr. Shannon Waters, and Dr. Trevor Bell who will highlight Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge of, connection to, and protection of water. By highlighting their respective work, they will showcase the interconnectedness of the health and well-being of waterways and Indigenous Peoples, as well as discuss how climate change adaptations rely on Indigenous knowledge and technologies to build greater community resiliency and water sovereignty.


Dr. Kelsey Leonard is a water scientist, legal scholar, policy expert, writer, and enrolled citizen of the Shinnecock Nation. Dr. Leonard is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, where her research focuses on Indigenous water justice and its climatic, territorial, and governance underpinnings. Dr. Leonard seeks to establish Indigenous traditions of water conservation as the foundation for international water policymaking.

Dr. Leonard represents the Shinnecock Indian Nation on the Mid-Atlantic Committee on the Ocean, which is charged with protecting the US’s ocean ecosystems and coastlines. She also serves as a member of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission. Her regional ocean policy work in collaboration with American First Nations as well as US state, federal and fishery management council entities received a Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Solutions.

Dr. Deborah McGregor is Anishinaabe from Whitefish River First Nation, Birch Island, Ontario. She joined York University’s Osgoode Hall law faculty in 2015 as a cross-appointee with the Faculty of Environmental Studies & Urban Change. Dr. McGregor’s research has focused on Indigenous knowledge systems and their various applications in diverse contexts including water and environmental governance, environmental justice, forest policy and management, and sustainable development. Her research has been published in a variety of national and international journals and she has delivered numerous public and academic presentations relating to Indigenous knowledge systems, governance and sustainability.

Prior to joining Osgoode, Dr. McGregor was an associate professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto and served as Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives and the Aboriginal Studies program. She has also served as Senior Policy Advisor, Aboriginal Relations at Environment Canada-Ontario Region. In addition to such posts, Professor McGregor remains actively involved in a variety of Indigenous communities, serving as an advisor and continuing to engage in community-based research and initiatives.

Dr. Shannon Waters is Coast Salish and a member of Stz’uminus First Nation on Vancouver Island. She completed the First Nations Family Practice program at the University of British Columbia and worked as a family doctor in Duncan, BC. While honoured to work close to home Shannon became frustrated with seeing people mostly when they were unwell and wanted to focus on keeping people healthy in the first place so she returned to school and completed her specialty training in Public Health and Preventive Medicine.

Dr. Waters has worked as the Director of Health Surveillance at First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and, at First Nations Health Authority as the Acting Senior Medical Officer for Vancouver Island Region. She has worked with Vancouver Island Health Authority as a Medical Director and with the Ministry of Health as the Aboriginal Physician Advisor. She is currently honored to have come full circle and to be working in her home territory as the local Medical Health Officer with Island Health.

Dr. Trevor Bell, University Research Professor in Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is a champion of issues surrounding climate change and Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic, and whose extraordinary creativity, drive, and concern has had a substantial impact on the wellbeing of Canadians across the North. He has merged natural and social sciences with Indigenous knowledge and expertise to create a truly multi-disciplinary approach to his research on climate variability and change.

In recognition of the significance of his research to his discipline, policy change, and the community, Dr. Bell was named a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. He has twice received the Arctic Inspiration Prize, in collaboration with the Nunatsiavut Government, for knowledge-to-action plans that benefit Arctic Peoples. His most recent partnership—SmartlCE—has transformed into a social enterprise recognized by the United Nations (2017) for its novel climate solution, and the Governor General’s Innovation Award (2019) for its “truly exceptional, transformative, and positive impact on quality of life in Canada”. In 2021, Trevor received the inaugural Frederik Paulsen Arctic Academic Action Award and the Martin Bergmann Medal for Excellence in Arctic Leadership for his ground-breaking achievements on climate change adaptation.

Learning Objectives

  • To recognize the interconnectedness between the health of waters and associated ecosystems and the health and well-being of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
  • To understand how climate change is impacting water safety, security, and practices for Indigenous communities.
  • To recognize Indigenous knowledge systems and their application to water and environmental governance within the context of climate change.
  • To gain knowledge on community-based adaptation tools and technology to monitor water safety within the context of climate change.

Webinar Resources