Coverage of Climate Change & Mental Health Research

Today, the Toronto Star published the second in a series of articles by Tyler Hamilton examining the many complex facets related to climate change and mental health, and featured our work in Nunatsiavut, Labrador.

Sometimes there are moments in life that change you, that alter you in ways that you can never really fully articulate… and that continue to teach you things years later. This research, and working with the Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, is one of the moments. Hearing the voices, experiences, and wisdom of the people with whom I work is humbling beyond belief. And dealing with, responding too, and hopefully mitigating the mental and emotional impacts of a rapidly changing climate and environment is something that continues, daily, to occupy my thoughts and drive my actions.


An excerpt:

Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, an assistant professor of indigenous studies at Cape Breton University, said the connection between mental health and climate change in Canada’s North is growing stronger and in “urgent” need of further investigation.

“There’s this dialogue that’s just waiting to leap out into the national and international consciousness,” she said. “In Canada, we have this active fishing culture, active farming culture, and large Arctic indigenous groups who are on the front lines of climate change, yet we have been really quiet on this topic.”

This is indeed a national dialogue that needs to happen in this country, and we are in a time in this country that I believe there is a willingness and and ability to listen and to act.

Thank you to Tyler Hamilton for his excellent reporting, and for his interest in this topic. His work is making sure this information and these voices get out, and for that, I am eternally grateful.


Reflections from ‘Creating a New Legacy Conference’ by Alexandra Sawatzky

One of the great pleasures of my job is the opportunity to work with amazing students. I am constantly inspired by and in awe of all they do, and of the level of commitment, heart, and caring they put into their studies. This past week, PhD Student Alexandra Sawatzky, whom I am lucky enough to co-supervise with Dr. Sherilee Harper, attended the Creating a New Legacy Conference and wrote some reflections.

Reflections from “Creating a New Legacy” – October 6-7, 2015

Written by Alexandra Sawatzky, PhD student

This week I had the honour of attending the 2015 Aboriginal Mental Health and Wellness Conference, “Creating a New Legacy,” in Brandon, Manitoba. The overall purpose of this two-day gathering was to promote and create culturally-safe services with and for Indigenous peoples, while encouraging Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to work together with their heads, hearts, and hands. The tree from their logo represents what happens when Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples come together as one to create a new legacy for the betterment of all. It implies that by establishing strong roots and a commitment to growing in our understanding, empathy, and respect for each other, the tree – and humanity – will flourish. The core values of this conference were reflectiveness, responsiveness, relationships, and restoration, which resonated throughout the various presentations and sessions.

In the keynote address by Dr. Brenda Restoule, from Dokis First Nation and the Eagle Clan, emphasis was placed on the need to move towards proactive, strengths-based health programming models in Indigenous communities that focus on the gifts people already have – and help them use these gifts to move forward independently. Underlying these strengths-based models is the need for holistic approaches to healthcare that are developed, owned, and operated by Indigenous peoples. In order to do so, culture must be foundational.

In addition to strengths-based programming, Dr. Chandrakant Shah, Project Director of the Aboriginal Cultural Safety Initiative at Anishnawbe Health Toronto, stressed the importance of training healthcare providers in providing these programmes in culturally-safe way. Cultural safety is essentially the intentional act to recognize, respect, and nurture unique cultural identities. To be culturally safe, we must first prioritize empathy over compassion. Dr. Shah described compassion as infatuation, sympathy, or pity. Empathy, on the other hand, he described as the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes. Only after you’ve done this will you truly understand another person’s world and associated worldviews. Cultural safety also requires a deep understanding of the historical contexts, ongoing colonial processes, and racism that continue to impact Indigenous peoples today. Particularly for non-Indigenous individuals involved in various aspects of healthcare, this means engaging with decolonization processes in all work that is done alongside Indigenous partners.

Following Dr. Shah’s presentation, Dr. Michael Hart, who is from Fisher River Cree Nation and is the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledge and Social Work, provided further elaboration on cultural safety and decolonization. Dr. Hart began his presentation by unpacking the themes and processes of colonialism, stressing that colonial processes are two-way streets; while one party suffers, the other benefits. Those who benefit often have an internalized sense of power, and most aren’t able to recognize this, or else are too uncomfortable to do so. Culturally-safe approaches to healthcare services seek to break down these power imbalances, and recognize that there is more than one way of looking at the world. Such approaches require new skill sets and a new theoretical base – a move from “Indigenous” to “Indigenist” services. Dr. Hart explained that Indigenist services are centred around cultural revitalization for the political, social, and economic transformation of Indigenous peoples. This involves the re-setting of traditions and continued re-affirmation of the power they hold, can hold, and will hold. He ended with words that are shared by many Elders, which get at the very heart of Indigenous ways of being: “take what will help you go forward in a good way. Please leave the rest.”

Although I learned so much from my brief time here, I recognize learning is never-ending and I have a long road ahead of me. Learning, to me, is about becoming. Becoming a better, wiser, more empathetic person. Becoming who you need to be. Learning can – and should be – an uncomfortable, challenging process. I find that it is when I am most uncomfortable with what I’m learning that I truly become more knowledgeable – about the world around me, and about myself. This knowledge, put into practice, can grow into wisdom. As Barry French, one of the planning committee members, so eloquently stated in his closing address: “with this knowledge, with these teachings, comes an obligation to do something with them. Take what you’ve learned here, put it into your heart, and use it. Share it with others. Create a new legacy.”

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I had the pleasure of meeting with artist Eugene Ross, a descendant of the Sante Dakota Tribe, who has the largest Dakota collection in Manitoba. Mr. Ross took the time to show me how Dakota people made pemmican – a mixture of dried meat, fruits, and nuts pounded into a coarse powder and mixed with melted fat.


  1. Creating a New Legacy. (2015). Conference Program. Retrieved October 8, 2015 from:

Article in International Innovations Full Release

A feature on our research on climate change and mental health in Nunatsiavut has just reached full release, and I’m pleased to share the links here. Click on the photo below to access the article online, including the embedded documentary and hyperlinks, or to download a pdf copy. Alternatively, click here for a pdf copy.


Courtesy of International Innovation – a leading scientific dissemination service.

Research Featured in International Innovation in Special Issue on Catalysts for Care

I am happy to share that our work on climate change and mental health has been featured in a special issue of International Innovation: Disseminating Science, Research, and Technology on Catalysts for Care (Issue 185). International Innovation is an open-access publication that features interviews, research, and content from around the world on leading scientific and research breakthroughs, discoveries, and thought. Our team was humbled and honoured to have our work appear in this publication.

A screen shot is available below, but to view the digital version, complete with an embedded link to our documentary film, Attutauniujuk Nunami/Lament for the Land, please view pages 66 and 67 here.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 11.49.24 AM

Two Up-Coming Film Screenings

March is another great month for film screenings for Attutaunijuk Nunami/Lament for the Land. I’m pleased to announce two up-coming screenings happening this week and next.

This Friday, March 13th, Attutaunijuk Nunami is being screened as part the Tracking Shots Aboriginal Cinema Series at Wilfrid Laurier University. While I couldn’t be there in person, I will be participating in a Q&A at the end of the screening virtually. If you’re in the Waterloo area, join us (see poster below).

Next Thursday, March 19th, I have the pleasure of being hosted by the School of Environment at Laurentian University to give a talk and screen the film. If you’re in the Sudbury region, we’d love to have you join (see poster below).

winter15 - poster pt2SofE_LamentForTheLand_PosterENG_March2015

TEDx Cape Breton Talks Released

The TEDx Cape Breton videos are now live! Happy to share a link to my talk on the impacts of climatic and environmental change on Inuit lives, livelihoods, and wellbeing in Nunatsiavut. Thanks to all who pulled this together!

RSC College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists Video

As part of our induction into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists, each member had to make a video highlighting their work. I was lucky enough to use footage from my work up in Nunatsiavut, Labrador for the visuals. Thanks to Herbie Sakalauskas from Cape Breton University for the amazing editing prowess!