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Kelsey Leonard

About the Speaker


A water scientist, legal scholar and policy expert, Kelsey Leonard is an enrolled citizen of the Shinnecock Nation and an Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo. Her research focuses on Indigenous water justice and its climatic, territorial, and governance underpinnings. In this work, Dr. Leonard seeks to establish Indigenous traditions of water conservation as the foundation for international water policymaking. In a related effort, she is also working to integrate Indigenous perspectives into climate adaptation planning. Toward this end, she has proposed the WAMPUM framework--which is informed by northeastern and mid-Atlantic coastal Tribal Nation science and knowledge systems--as the basis for adaptation planning in response to sea level rise.

Dr. Leonard earned an A.B. in Sociology and Anthropology with honors from Harvard University, a MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management from the University of Oxford, a JD from Duquesne University, and PhD in Political Science from McMaster University. She has been recognized as a 30 under 30 world environmental leader by the North American Association for Environmental Education and a “Native American 40 Under 40” award recipient by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. Her doctoral dissertation examined Indigenous water governance in the Great Lakes. For her research, she was also awarded one of the most prestigious postdoctoral awards in Canada, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship. 

Dr. Leonard represents the Shinnecock Indian Nation on the Mid-Atlantic Committee on the Ocean, which is charged with protecting America's ocean ecosystems and coastlines. She also serves as a member of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission. Her regional ocean policy work in collaboration with Tribes, state, federal and fishery management council entities received a Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Solutions.