Congratulations to Alexandra Sawatzky

alexCongratulations to Alexandra Sawatzky for successfully completing her PhD qualifying exams!

Alexandra finished her undergraduate degree in Arts & Science with a cumulative GPA of 89%, and directly entered into a PhD program in Public Health at the University of Guelph. Her research interests include the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples in Canada, integrated environment and health surveillance, as well as physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social impacts of climatic and environmental change in Inuit communities. Recognizing her academic aptitude, she has been awarded over $100,000 in scholarships and travel grants to support her PhD research.

Sharing her research with the scientific community include two peer-reviewed publications, as well as seven oral and five poster presentations at national and international conferences. In addition, she has authored 25 research-related reports, and writes an insightful and reflective blog, “Unlearn. Relearn. Repeat.”

It has been a pleasure working with Alexandra over the past two years, and Sherilee Harper and I are thrilled to continue working with Alexandra as she begins her PhD Candidacy!

*Originally posted on

Mental Health & Our Changing Climate

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 9.48.56 AMIn June 2014, the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica published an important report, Beyond Storms & Drought: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change, which outlined the numerous direct and indirect pathways through which climate change and the resulting environmental alterations impact mental health.

Yesterday, an updated report, Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, was released and I am pleased to be an Editor and a Contributor on this report. The shared goal is to continue to increase awareness and understanding of the psychological impacts of climate change, and to continue dialogue on this important topic.


From the Introduction to the Report:

It is time to expand information and action on climate and health, including mental health. The health, economic, political, and environmental implications of climate change affect all of us. The tolls on our mental health are far reaching. They induce stress, depression, and anxiety; strain social and community relationships; and have been linked to increases in aggression, violence, and crime. Children and communities with few resources to deal with the impacts of climate change are those most impacted. To compound the issue, the psychological responses to climate change, such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness, and resignation are growing. These responses are keeping us, and our nation, from properly addressing the core causes of and solutions for our changing climate, and from building and supporting psychological resiliency.

This report also highlights work done in partnership with Inuit from throughout Nunatsiavut.

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Media portrayal of drinking water security in Indigenous communities in Canada


Congratulations to Steven Lam on a newly published review that examines the extent, range, and nature of newspaper coverage of drinking water security in Canadian Indigenous communities through four major news sources: The Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, and Windspeaker.

The article is available for free (open-access) here: Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.45.06 PM

Northern-Led Leadership in Higher Education

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The following Op-Ed was published on March 20, 2017 on the MUN Gazette, as part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in N.L. and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Indigenous Peoples worldwide. This theme coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week 2017: Building Reconciliation taking place at Memorial from March 20-24.

Research in the North has too often focused on answering the questions that the South has about the North.

Increasingly, Northern organizations, governments, researchers, and communities are calling for more leadership when deciding how research and education will be conducted, what research is a priority, and how funding will be controlled and allocated.

This changing academic landscape requires Northern-embedded institutions that can support this transition, and work towards greater sovereignty in higher education in these locations.

With the current federal focus on science, innovation, the North, and renewed relationships, now is the time to enhance already-present institutions to create research and educational strategies that reflect Northern, Indigenous, and remote contexts.

By the North, for the North

One of the unique attributes of the research and educational landscape in Labrador is the presence of the Labrador Institute of Memorial.

“As one of the few university-based units located in the Canadian North, the Labrador Institute occupies an important space in the country’s higher education landscape.”

The Labrador Institute was established 38 years ago with the aim of bringing the resources of Memorial to Labrador and the voices, ideas, needs, and priorities of Labrador to the university.

As one of the few university-based units located in the Canadian North, the Labrador Institute occupies an important space in the country’s higher education landscape, and holds tremendous potential for Northern-led intellectual leadership, high quality educational opportunities that meet local needs and priorities, and innovative research that can make tangible impacts for people and communities.

We are nimble and responsive, and reflective of a different way of understanding and conceptualizing what higher education can do and mean in Northern and Indigenous contexts.

Our commitment to place

Over the past months, I have been leading a strategic revisioning process at the Labrador Institute with the aim to refresh and reframe our activities in Labrador and to ensure that institutionally, we grow and transform within the changing context of Northern leadership and self-determination, including Indigenous Peoples.

“We will be guided by and work in partnership with the three Indigenous governments to strive to decolonize our research, education, and institutional structures.”

Our newly-emerging collective vision is to be a leading public centre of research, education, outreach, and policy, by and for the North.

We are located on the traditional homelands and territories of the Innu and the Inuit, and will be guided by and work in partnership with the three Indigenous governments to strive to decolonize our research, education, and institutional structures, while remaining responsive and committed to place.

Throughout this process, we are reclaiming what it means to be a Northern-based research and education centre, and how higher education can and should be different in the North.

We are striving to create land-based and interdisciplinary graduate programs and educational offerings that are offered in and reflective of the North, and open spaces for key dialogues and leading-edge research.

We are creating research hubs that collaborate on Northern priorities such as food systems, changing environments, marine resources, community health, culture and languages, resource development, and governance and determination.

And we are working to expand the infrastructure and resources in Labrador to support this vision and contribute to intellectual richness, diversity, and leadership in the North and across the country.

Responsibility in a time of reconciliation

These are exciting times with much hope and optimism in the North, and it is imperative we respond with thoughtful and timely support through higher education.

The North will provide essential leadership and, by doing so, will have the opportunity to realize sovereignty in research and education, led by the North, for the North.

As Newfoundland and Labrador’s only university, Memorial takes seriously its special responsibility and commitment to meeting the needs and priorities of the province, including in the North.

As one of the only universities with a full-time presence in a Northern location, Memorial and the Labrador Institute are strongly positioned to continue to be at the leading edge of Northern-led research and contribute to growing research capacity, infrastructure, and partnerships to create positive social changes with lasting impact in the region.

The Mental Health Impacts of Ecological Grief in a Changing Climate

The ecologist (in a more than scientific sense) is someone who is touched by this loss in such a way as to mourn the toll of extinction instituted by human exemptionism and exceptionalism. She is bereft, and yet also understands that this feeling, her being touched by irrevocable loss, is itself a matter of realizing the existence of a sense of an ecological and ethical and political community with other species.
Mick Smith, 2013, p. 29

In 2016, I participated in the Advanced Study Institute, hosted by the Transcultural Psychiatry group at McGill University, led by Dr. Lawrence Kirmayer. The 2016 theme was Psychiatry for a Small Planet, and brought together an international group of researchers working on various aspects of mental health, nature, and the environment.

I was invited to speak on the ways in which ecological grief manifests within a changing climate in the North based on the Nunatsiavut-led research on climate change and mental health, and what it teaches us about our relationships with the more-than-human worlds.

Stimulating a Canadian Narrative for Climate Action

For the last few years, I’ve been working with a group of over 60 scholars, scientists, and decision-makers from throughout Canada, and representing multiple disciplines and backgrounds, to discover and promote possible pathways towards a low-carbon economy.

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Working together with this group, and with representatives from civil society from Coast to Coast to Coast, we produced a set of insights and recommendations for climate change actions and potential models for engagement.

The resulting article, Stimulating a Canadian Narrative for Climate, was just published through Open Access in FACETS. Click on the picture below to access the article in full text.

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Mourning Nature Release Date

mourning-natureIn May 2017, an edited collection that myself and Dr. Karen Landman from the University of Guelph have been working on for several years will be available through McGill-Queen’s University Press. This book was an absolute privilege and honour to work on, and the chapters within tell powerful, moving, and important stories about the ways in which we mourn nature, what this mourning can tell us about ourselves, and how this mourning can be mobilized for political and ethical change. Order here.

We are facing unprecedented environmental challenges, including global climate change, large-scale industrial development, rapidly increasing species extinction, ocean acidification, and deforestation – challenges that require new vocabularies and new ways to express grief and sorrow over the disappearance, degradation, and loss of nature.

Seeking to redress the silence around ecologically based anxiety in academic and public domains, and to extend the concepts of sadness, anger, and loss, Mourning Nature creates a lexicon for the recognition and expression of emotions related to environmental degradation. Exploring the ways in which grief is experienced in numerous contexts, this groundbreaking collection draws on classical, philosophical, artistic, and poetic elements to explain environmental melancholia. Understanding that it is not just how we mourn, but what we mourn that defines us, the authors introduce new perspectives on conservation, sustainability, and our relationships with nature.

An ecological elegy for a time of climatic and environmental upheaval, Mourning Nature challenges readers to turn devastating events into an opportunity for positive change.

Contributors include Glenn Albrecht (Murdoch University, retired); Jessica Marion Barr (Trent University); Sebastian Braun (University of North Dakota); Ashlee Cunsolo (Labrador Institute of Memorial University); Amanda Di Battista (York University); Franklin Ginn (University of Edinburgh); Bernie Krause (soundscape ecologist, author, and independent scholar); Lisa Kretz (University of Evansville); Karen Landman (University of Guelph); Patrick Lane (Poet); Andrew Mark (independent scholar); Nancy Menning (Ithaca College); John Charles Ryan (University of New England); Catriona Sandilands (York University); and Helen Whale (independent scholar).