Integrating Indigenous worldviews into impact assessments

January 23, 2023

Cortney Golkar-Dakin, Assistant Professor, department of Geography and Environment

Photo and story by Rob Rombouts

Cortney Golkar-Dakin wants to build relationships and solidarity with people engaged globally in de-colonization struggles.

She has joined the Department of Geography and Environment as an Assistant Professor. Her research focuses on how to change the impact assessment processes, making the energy decision process more just and more sustainable.

As part of her PhD thesis, Golkar-Dakin – a Métis scholar whose Michif name is Sākihitowin Awāsis – travelled around the Great Lakes region. She met with Water Protectors who were involved in struggles against two pipeline projects: the construction of a secondary Line 3, through Minnesota; and, the reversal of Line 9, through South-Western Ontario, which crossed Deshkan Ziibi – the Thames River – twice.

More than just consulting with Indigenous communities, Golkar-Dakin said assessments need to integrate more Indigenous perspectives and worldviews, including a more expansive understanding of time. The assessments should include non-linear and cyclical views of time and consider land-based kinship relations. Assessments should also consider longer timelines, including impacts on seven previous and the seven next generations.

She also considered what it would mean to apply traditional harvest protocols to energy decisions. “Energy sources are living beings, and Indigenous communities have responsibilities to and unique relationships with each specific source,” said Golkar-Dakin. “How do we account for this in the decision process? How do non-human beings participate in the process?”

She has applied different aspects of her research through community engagement project, including as  part of the process to build a Round House at Deshkaan-ziibing Aniishinaabeg (Chippewa of the Thames First Nation). Nimkii Binesi Zaswaaning – the Thunderbird’s Nest – is intended to be a space for teaching and learning, as well as healing.  With support of the 2021 Head and Heart Fellowship program, Golkar-Dakin was part of a team that created a moon calendar. The moon calendar tracks the 13 moons that occur through the year, based on what is happening at that time.

“This gives the community an understanding of how the Round House will be used during different moons, which will be used to inform design,” she said. Golkar-Dakin plans to develop a field course at the Round House, connecting students with knowledge keepers. 

She also collaborates with SafeSpace London, which provides street-level support for sex workers. Through this work, she aims to “support building capabilities for people to live lives that have meaning to them.”

Joining the department as a faculty member is “an immense privilege and responsibility,” she said. “It’s an exciting time at Western; it’s a super supportive environment. I see my work as rooted with the local community, so to be able to be based locally is a dream.”