With a vision to build the next generation of scientists and climate change leaders, the David Suzuki Foundation has appointed its first Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change fellow.
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Cree from northern Alberta, is set to begin a one-year research project on how Indigenous communities can make meaningful contributions to sustainable climate solutions.
Laboucan-Massimo knows time is running short for combating the effects of climate change. She has spent the last decade campaigning with Greenpeace Canada and the Indigenous Environmental Network, trying to dissuade extractive industries from further polluting the planet.
She said working with the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) lines up with her passion to help make an impact in creating a greener future.
"I feel like the values of DSF honour my Indigenous values," she said.
"They recognize and respect Indigenous knowledge, and that's why they have an Indigenous scholar bringing Indigenous knowledge to climate science. It was very fitting."
In 2015, Laboucan-Massimo set up a 20.8-kilowatt solar installation in her home community of Little Buffalo in northern Alberta. She would like to see projects like this expand to other communities during her fellowship.
"This gives me the time and space to really focus on researching renewable energy models that we can replicate in our communities, and also push for progressive renewable energy policies, provincially and nationally," she said.
But there are barriers to reaching some Indigenous communities that are struggling and living in poverty. Many communities Laboucan-Massimo has spoken with are eager to incorporate sustainable solutions, but other pressing issues tend to put climate change on the back burner.
"Indigenous communities are still in crisis, responding to so many different things from the repercussions of residential schools and colonialism to now, we are responding to issues that coincide with that," she said.
"On top of that, we have oil and gas projects that are trying to go into our territories and cause more destruction."
Healing the land and the climate goes hand-in-hand with healing trauma, she continued.
"It inspires me to see our communities become whole again, to have more healing, incorporate and bring back our traditional food systems, our medicines."
Laboucan-Massimo believes the DSF will help bridge gaps between the Indigenous and settler communities to help both transition into a greener economy.
Launched in the fall of 2016, the fellowship was established as part of a celebration of Suzuki's 80th birthday.
Harpreet Johal, a program specialist with the foundation, said adding an Indigenous perspective to the roster was the perfect fit.
"We're looking more into how Indigenous knowledge fits into scientific knowledge. The knowledge that Indigenous people have is something that we really want to incorporate into the foundation," said Johal.
Massimo-Laboucan is convinced that rediscovering Indigenous ways of being will be integral to bringing balance back into the environment.
"I feel like we need to start implementing solutions into our communities by bringing back our traditional and Indigenous knowledge which made our communities — before colonization — very healthy communities," she said.
"Our people were extremely healthy. We lived off the land. It was no coincidence that the environment we lived in was in such pristine condition because the people had harmony with the Earth."
She will have access to expert mentors, including David Suzuki, during the year of her fellowship. Two non-Indigenous fellows will conduct climate change-related research with the DSF as well.