Melanie Goodchild

Melanie Goodchild
PhD Student, Faculty of Environment
> Senior Indigenous Research Fellow
> Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience

Indigenous communities are among the places hardest hit by climate change. With their strong history and culture of systems thinking, Indigenous voices have never been more crucial to the climate conversation.

Melanie Goodchild, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Environment, will bring those insights to a new collaboration with NASA that aims to build a bridge between Indigenous knowledge systems and geospatial data.

In her work to support NASA, Goodchild, a Senior Indigenous Research Fellow with the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR), will collaborate with a team of interdisciplinary tribal and non-tribal members to determine how First Nations could use NASA’s data to reduce their vulnerability to rapid climate change – which affects, for example, traditional food sources and safe travel routes.

Ethical knowledge co-creation with Indigenous peoples

Goodchild says she’ll be there to ensure the team practices ethical “knowledge co-creation” with Indigenous peoples.

“We’re all in a mess with climate change,” she says. “There’s still a group that needs to be convinced of the value of Indigenous knowledge, but there’s another group that recognizes very clearly the importance of Indigenous knowledge to climate change and adaptation, risk reduction, and sustainable development goals. I’m interested in the space past that debate: how do we use it now?”

Goodchild is Anishinaabe, moose clan, a member of the Biigtigong Nishnawbeg, in northwestern Ontario. While working as Senior Counsel, Indigenous Relations at the National Office for the Canadian Red Cross, Goodchild took part in the Banff Centre’s first Getting to Maybe Social Innovation Residency program in 2015, run by WISIR. There, she saw the potential that social innovation could have for the “wicked problems” – multilayered, entangled issues – that persist in many First Nations communities in Canada.

Indigenous approaches can inform settler societies

Now, she’s completing her PhD in Social and Ecological Sustainability. And she notes that indigenous approaches to knowledge can teach settler societies quite a bit about sustainability.

“Indigenous knowledges have to do with ecologies, reciprocities. The points of entry for our pedagogies are different – knowledge resides on the land and is revealed through the land, not in a textbook. And indigenous languages tend to be verb-based, so we are always describing relationships. That steers us away from dichotomies.”

Goodchild’s expertise is in high demand: “I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action have opened a window of dialogue across a lot of different sectors,” she observes. Over the course of the year she had at least one talk or panel discussion every month, including a keynote address to the Canadian Space Agency in June and another at the Stockholm Resilience Center in Sweden in August.

Funding announcement: University of Waterloo has recently announced additional financial incentives totalling $1.5 million to encourage the continued development of Canadian graduate research. The funds are available for both domestic (Canadian and Permanent Resident) PhD and research Master’s students beginning their studies in fall 2019. Full details on funding and eligibility by faculty can be found on Discover Graduate Studies.