Water and climate scientist Kelsey Leonard is a Banting Postdoctoral Research Fellow at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduating from Harvard College, Dr. Leonard became the first Native American woman to earn a science degree from the University of Oxford, receiving her master’s in water science, policy, and management.

As a citizen of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and an environmental leader, Dr. Leonard strives to be a strong advocate for the protection of Indigenous waters through enhanced interjurisdictional coordination and meaningful consultation. She is a Tribal representative on the Mid-Atlantic Committee on the Ocean and a member of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission.

Dr. Leonard has been instrumental in safeguarding the interests of Tribal Nations for environmental planning, and builds Indigenous science and knowledge into new solutions for water governance and sustainable oceans. Her recent scholarship explores “Indigenous Water Justice” and the defining international legal principle of self-determination under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was published in the Lewis and Clark Law Review and available for download. Her research on climate change focuses on water security challenges facing Tribal and First Nations in the Great Lakes and Coastal Atlantic regions due to rising sea and lake levels and extreme climate events. Dr. Leonard is a member of an international research team using Indigenous science, to deepen our understandings of perceived climate change impacts, and works to ensure Indigenous knowledge systems influence international climate change negotiations and policy-making processes.

At the TEDWomen 2019 Conference, she presented a talk titled “Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans,” which has garnered almost 1.5 million views. In this talk, Dr. Leonard outlines why granting legal personhood to water is a powerful step in transforming our relationship with water and asks us to reflect on the question “What have I done for the water today?” If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Leonard’s research or exploring opportunities for climate change research partnerships please contact her at leonardk@mcmaster.ca.