I'm interested in finding ways to lift others’ voices.


I'm interested in finding ways to lift others’ voices.



As a teenager, Nathanael (Nat) Bergbusch, a student in Waterloo’s School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, remembers reading about Grassy Narrows First Nation.

Between 1962 and 1970, a chemical plant released mercury into the English-Wabigoon river system, poisoning the water supply. As a result, the federal government banned commercial fishing in the area, destroying the local economy. And today, 90% of community members continue to suffer from mercury poisoning.

“I remember thinking, ‘Why do we have these human rights abuses and environmental losses if we’re truly planning projects like pulp and paper mills carefully?’” Nat says.

That question, along with a lifelong love of waterways and an interest in environmental justice, inspired Nat’s doctoral research.

“When we’re planning development projects, we rarely think further downstream. We don’t think about the people who live near the river and the ecosystems they depend on. I hope to work with communities to develop processes that capture key issues related to water that are sometimes invisible in current environmental assessments.”

In partnership with several First Nations in Saskatchewan, Nat is currently studying how development projects change flow and water quality, which, in turn, relate to the use and occupation of lands and waterways. This information will be used to co-develop monitoring programs and guidelines to ensure that impact assessments take communities’ interactions with waterways into account.

Nat’s work has attracted attention. Among other prestigious awards, he has received the Davis Memorial Scholarship in Ecology and an RBC Water Scholars Graduate Entrance Scholarship, which recognizes excellence in integrated water management.

“These awards have given me the gift of time,” Nat says. “I couldn’t do this project without this funding because it takes time to build relationships with research partners and meet their goals. I so appreciate that gift.”

Ultimately, Nat hopes to contribute to a more collaborative and inclusive approach to addressing water and even climate change issues.

“People who live in remote areas or on reserves or in island nations are feeling the effects of climate change. But they aren't the ones who make the policies that will allow us to mitigate climate change, or deal with environmental problems, or make development decisions.”

“I’m not necessarily interested in being a champion, but in finding ways to lift others’ voices.”


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