Dr. Kelsey Leonard is a water scientist, legal scholar, policy expert, writer, and enrolled citizen of the Shinnecock Nation. Dr. Leonard is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, where her research focuses on Indigenous water justice and its climatic, territorial, and governance underpinnings. Dr. Leonard seeks to establish Indigenous traditions of water conservation as the foundation for international water policymaking.
She 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.
Dr. Leonard received 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 has been instrumental in safeguarding the interests of Indigenous Nations for environmental planning and builds Indigenous science and knowledge into new solutions for water governance and sustainable oceans. In collaboration with a global team of water law scholars Dr. Leonard has published in Lewis and Clark Law Review on Indigenous Water Justice and the defining international legal principle of self-determination under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Her recent scholarship explores legal personhood for water and her TEDTalk “Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans” has nearly 3 million views. Dr. Leonard is a member of the National Ocean Protection Coalition Science Advisory Team, Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature Academic Hub and affiliate of the Earth Law Center. Follow her on Twitter @KelseyTLeonard.