Through her research, Métis scholar and new faculty member Cortney Golkar-Dakin is determined to make the processes of energy production and consumption more just and sustainable.
Golkar-Dakin, whose Michif name is Sākihitowin Awāsis, joined the department of geography and environment as an assistant professor this month. Her research specifically focuses on how to change the process by which the impact of energy projects on local communities is assessed.
As part of her PhD thesis, Golkar-Dakin travelled around the Great Lakes region and met with Indigenous water protectors – activists and cultural workers focussed on water conservation. The water protectors were advocating against two pipeline projects: the construction of a secondary Line 3, through Minnesota and the reversal of Line 9, through Southwestern Ontario, which crossed Deshkan Ziibi – the Thames River – twice.
More than just consulting with Indigenous communities, Golkar-Dakin said energy impact 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 seven succeeding generations.
She also considered what it would mean to apply traditional Indigenous understanding of the idea of cultivation and harvest, to decisions on the use and conservation of energy sources.
“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?”
Golkar-Dakin has applied different aspects of her research through community engagement projects, including construction of 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 calendar tracks the 13 lunar cycles 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. This understanding 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. The project is based on an empowerment model and harm reduction approach that supports the decriminalization of sex work to provide for the safety, dignity, and autonomy of community members to choose or refuse sex work. The goal is to improve the living conditions of women and gender non-conforming individuals who provide sexual services.
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.”