Our research group conducts human ecological research in partnership with indigenous peoples and local communities. We seek to innovate policy and practice in civil society by re-envisioning paradigms that are failing. Our current research efforts coalesce around areas of high altitude and latitude where ecological and socio-cultural change are critically affecting food, health, energy, and water sovereignty. Through participatory research, we incorporate qualitative and quantitative techniques from the social and biophysical sciences as well as the humanities. We take a pluralistic approach, recognizing that effective solutions are based on multiple epistemological paradigms. We assert that indigenous knowledge helps to conserve biocultural diversity in ways that are beyond the reach of single-disciplinary approaches. By supporting communities as they anticipate and respond to change, we engage complex ethical and policy challenges of the 21st century.
Advisor of Talia Chorover, MS student: Talia is working on the Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs (ECCAP) project in Central Asia. She is interested in community-based approaches to ecological conservation, food sovereignty, and high-elevation ecosystem dynamics. Talia received her undergraduate degree in Geology from Oberlin College. She has since worked as a field ecologist in the Sierra Nevada mountains, an environmental consultant for Clean Water Action in Boston, and a park ranger at Katmai National Park in Alaska.
Advisor of Michael Dunaway, PhD student: Michael's interest is Indigenous energy sovereignty. His current research investigates the feasibility of refining biodiesel with solar power. His PhD research will test the theoretical feasibility by building a small-scale, solar-powered biodiesel refinery on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma. By creating a pilot, the hope is to have a demonstration effect where other reservations engage in similar sustainable energy development initiatives. Michael is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Advisor of Abraham Francis, MS student: Abraham is working on applied research to develop a biocultural land Stewardship strategy for existing and newly settled Native American Land Claims on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, Akwesasne. His research interests include health, education and cultural foundations as a means to empower Indigenous Communities. Abraham has a BS in Microbiology from Cornell. His past experiences include community empowerment, engagement and research with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.
Advisor of Leo V Louis, MS/PhD student: Leo's interests are in understanding the complex and dynamic relationships between people and their environment. In particular he is interested in how these relationships have been, and continue to be, impacted by climate change, colonialism, and an ever globalizing world. As part of the Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs (ECCAP) project, he brings past experience as an anthropologist and botanist. Leo received a BS in ethnobotany from The University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and has conducted research on the Island of 'Eua in Tonga, in the kingdom of Bhutan, and in Hawai'i. Leo has been awarded funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship program (GRFP).
Advisor of Elle Nevers, MPS student: Elle (Ellen) is studying International Agriculture and Rural Development in the MPS Global Development program. Her research interests include the sustainable farming methods of isolated communities and the impact an individual's degree of integration in their food system has on their relationship with their environment. She holds a BA in Chinese Language and Literature and a BA in French Studies from Boston University. Elle plans to use her language background to research and connect with isolated farming communities in East Asia.
Advisor of Kayla Scheimreif, MS student: Kayla is working on the Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs (ECCAP) project in Central Asia. Her research interests include rural diaspora, climate change, and traditional ecological knowledge. Kayla has a BA in Natural History from Sterling College in Vermont. Her past experiences include collecting data on nesting shorebirds in the Arctic and researching traditional ecological knowledge in Mongolia.
Advisor of Madeline Rich: Maddy (Madeline) is majoring in General Biology with a concentration in Marine Biology. Her thesis project synthesizes place-based knowledge from communities around the Oneida Lake Watershed of New York, with the ultimate goal of creating an ecological calendar to build resiliency against climate change. Her past experiences include studies in biomechanics, taxonomy, and developmental biology. Madeline is an avid scuba diver and rock climber.
Supervisor of Aziz Ali, PhD: Aziz Ali has 25 years of professional experiences in Rural Development and in Strategic and Participatory Planning, with a special focus on food security and livelihoods improvement. His work in natural resource management has included projects in agriculture, forestry, rangelands/livestock, and water resources. Much of the time, Aziz has employed participatory approaches that help to empower local communities. Aziz also has conducted research on the above themes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Pamir region of Tajikistan − providing him much first-hand experience with rural mountain communities. Recently, Aziz was awarded the prestigious South Asia Fellowship 2018 from Cornell University for his work on "Vulnerability and Disaster Risk Assessment in the Emerging Scenario of Climate Change in North-Eastern Afghanistan." Aziz holds a Professional Master Degree in Natural Resources Management from International Institute for Aerospace, Survey and Earth Science in the Netherlands, and an MSc in Botany and Forestry from Peshawar University, Pakistan. Currently, Mr. Ali is pursuing his PhD degree at Philipps Universität, in Marburg, Germany.
Supervisor of Morgan Ruelle, PhD: Morgan's research is focused on the use of ecological calendars to anticipate climate trends and variability. He is working to document traditional ecological calendars and other phenological knowledge, identify reliable seasonal cues that correlate with both weather and livelihood activities, and initiate community-based phenological monitoring. He will be leading field work in the Standing Rock Nation as well as communities surrounding Oneida Lake in New York.
Past Graduate Students
- Advisor of Murodbek Laldjebaev (PhD, 2017): Murodbek is interested in energy security and energy sovereignty in the context of Tajikistan. His dissertation explored energy security, poverty, and sovereignty in mountain communities of Tajikistan.
- Advisor of Michelangelo Lieberman (MPS, 2016): Michelangelo's research examined the relationship between child beggars (talibé) and their teachers (marabouts) in Saint Louis, Senegal, work which he began as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2011 to 2013.
- Advisor of Chuan Liao (MS, 2012; PhD, 2015): Chuan's research integrated natural and social sciences to address the use of common-pool resources, to demystify "the tragedy of the commons". He conducted research with pastoral communities in in Borana, Ethiopia, and in the Central Asian steppe of Xinjiang, China.
- Advisor of Morgan Ruelle (MS, 2011; PhD, 2015): Morgan's Master's research was conducted with Dakota and Lakota elders in the Standing Rock Nation and focused on seasonal availability of plants, knowledge transmission, and local farmers markets. His dissertation research was conducted with subsistence farmers in Ethiopia to understand the contribution of plant diversity the food systems, as well as their seasonal availability, spatial distribution, and significance within sacred sites.
- Advisor of Michelle Baumflek (PhD, 2015): Michelle's research focuses on interconnections between plants and people. She is interested in the role wild plants can play in issues of health sovereignty and cultural identity. Michelle completed a two year study of contemporary use and changing access to gathered plants in Maine. Her PhD research was a continuation of this work. In collaboration with two Native American tribes in northern Maine, Michelle developed culturally-appropriate management plans for wild plants which take social and ecological factors into account.
- Advisor of Rajeev Goyal (MPS, 2015): Rajeev's research focused on strategies for countering the effects of land fragmentation in eastern Nepal. Secondary to the expansion of road infrastructure in the rural hills, land prices have escalated, causing the conversion of diverse habitats into building sprawl. Rajeev examined how a network of government schools in the eastern hills can serve as a land trust for biodiversity education.
- Advisor of Jeffrey Wall (MPS, 2012; MS, 2014): Jeffrey conducts farmer-centered research that examines agricultural ecology, biocultural diversity, crop genetic resource conservation and food insecurity. Jeffrey's Master of Professional Studies research, conducted in tandem with his Peace Corps service, evaluated the cultural and financial importance of chestnut production in two villages in Azerbaijan, where the recent arrival of chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) threatens significant damage. For his Master of Science thesis, he built on this work to conduct a social and biological impact assessment for the biological control of chestnut blight across Azerbaijan.
- Advisor of Nicole Wilson (MS, 2012): Nicole's Master's thesis is entitled, Human Ecological Dimensions of Change in the Yukon River Basin: A Case Study of the Koyukon Athabaskan Village of Ruby, AK. In collaboration with the Yukon River Inter-tribal Watershed Council, her research examines the implications of climate change for the subsistence livelihoods of Alaska Native Tribes and First Nations in the Yukon River Basin, including the role of indigenous knowledge and institutions in facilitating adaptation to change.
- Supervised Robert A. Hawkesworth, Master of Arts (MA), Thesis Topic: Evaluating Community Participation in an Action Plan to Decrease Homelessness in Calgary, the Resources and the Environment Program, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Calgary. Calgary Alderman Bob Hawkesworth successfully completed his dissertation and defense evaluating the most adequate methods to promote participation by all stakeholders in reducing homelessness in the city of Calgary (Graduated 2003).
- Supervised Darwin Peter Bateyko, Master’s Degree Project (MDP), Thesis Topic: Evaluating Co-Management: A Framework for Analysis, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary. Mr. Bateyko examined the role of co-management of natural resources in aboriginal northern communities as a result of Land Claim Agreements. Undertaken in partnership with Sahtu Renewable Resources Board, this research is intended to have real and practical impact on the governance structures of the Sahtu Land Claim Agreement (Graduated 2003).
- Committee Member/Examiner of Jennifer McKillop, Master’s Degree Project (MDP), Thesis Topic: An Approach to Land Management and Development: Assessment for Fort McKay First Nation, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary. Dr. Kassam's responsibilities involved assignment of readings and engaging the student in critical discussion. Time was spent concentrating on methods used for collecting indigenous knowledge and methodology for aboriginal community participation in research (Graduated 2002).
- Committee Member/Examiner for Frederick McDonald, Masters of Fine Arts (MFA), Topic: Ancestral Portraits, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Calgary. Mr. Frederick McDonald is a Native Cree artist from Northern Alberta. Dr. Kassam’s contribution included assisting Mr. McDonald in asking questions such as: what is the role of representation in art, how does art challenge stereotypes and cultural imperialism, and what is the role of cultural identity in art? Frederick McDonald successfully defended his dissertation and exhibition at the Banff Centre Gallery. The dissertation he wrote became a book published by the University of Calgary Press to which Dr. Kassam wrote the introductory preface (Graduated 2002).
- Mentored Sean K. Maher, Murray Fraser Graduate Research Assistant to the Murray Fraser Professor of Community Economic Development (1998-2000). Dr. Kassam assisted Mr. Maher in his studies and worked with him in developing his research and teaching profile. Mr. Maher contributed to Dr. Kassam’s various research projects. He is currently completing his doctorate at the University of Cambridge, UK.
Past Visiting Fellows
- Advisor of Umed Bulbulshoev, Visiting Fellow at Cornell (Fall 2010): Umed is a linguist who studies the interconnections between language, culture and human ecology. He believes that as indigenous languages are lost, knowledge related to the preservation of biodiversity and adaptation to change are lost as well. Umed’s research focuses on Pamiri languages spoken in the mountainous Badakshan region of Tajikistan and Afghanistan including Shugnani, Rushani, Ishkashimi, and Wakhani. Umed co-wrote a paper about indigenous calendars entitled, Ecology of Time: Calendar of the Human Body in the Pamir Mountains.
- Advisor of Munira Karamkhudoeva, Visiting Fellow at Cornell (Spring 2010): Munira is an entomologist who works in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Her current work focuses on medicinal plants and plant diseases, and involves social as well as biological components. A member of the Pamir Biological Institute, Munira has previously researched whiteflies associated with failing potato harvests in Afghanistan. Munira co-wrote a paper about the importance of medicinal plants in the Pamir Mountains entitled, Medicinal Plant Use and Health Sovereignty: Findings from the Tajik and Afghan Pamirs.
Past Undergraduate Honours Students
- Advisor of Madeline Rich: Honour's Student at Cornell University. She is majoring in General Biology with a concentration in Marine Biology. Her thesis project synthesizes place-based knowledge from communities around the Oneida Lake Watershed of New York, with the ultimate goal of creating an ecological calendar to build resiliency against climate change. Her past experiences include studies in biomechanics, taxonomy, and developmental biology.
- Supervised Tamar Law, Honour's Student at Cornell University. Her senior honor's thesis entitled 'Hive Mind' examined the biocultural status of beekeeping in Mankara, Madagascar. Ms. Law was a College Scholar, majoring in Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies with a minor in French and Anthropology. (Graduated 2017).
- Supervised Anna Brown, Honour's Student at Cornell University. Her senior honors thesis examined indigenous knowledge systems and community-based resource management in the mountain village of Nepal. Ms. Brown was a double major in Development Sociology and South Asian Studies (Graduated 2016).
- Supervised Kelsey Poljacik, Honour's Student at Cornell University. Her senior honors thesis focused on co-management of natural resources in Tanzania and Canada. Ms. Poljacik majored Natural Resources with a minor in Law and Society (Graduated 2016).
- Supervised Sherry Martin, Honour's Student at Cornell University. Thesis Topic: Indigenous Knowledge for Conservation of Natural and Cultural Resources: A Case Study in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area of Far North Queensland. Ms. Martin was a double major in Biology & Society and Natural Resources (Graduated 2011).
- Supervised Tara Collins, Honour's Student at the University of Calgary. Her thesis examined how renewable energy opportunities have been transformed and adapted in Canadian communities, and how these processes may be useful for other remote communities in crisis, including the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. Ms. Collins majored in Development Studies (Graduated 2007).
- Supervised May Mah, Honour's Student at the University of Calgary. Thesis Topic: Canadian Development Assistance and Human Rights in China. Ms. Mah's research evaluated development assistance by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and its stated policy towards human rights in China. Ms. Mah majored in Development Studies (Graduated 2003).
Past Undergraduate Research Assistants
- Phoenix Storm Paz graduated Magna Cum Laude from Cornell University in 2012, with a double major in History and Spanish and a triple minor in American Indian Studies, Latin American Studies and Latino Studies. Her thesis analyzed the creation of national and ethnic identity in Gold Rush California by examining life and times of California bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, whose criminal career stretched from 1852 to 1875. An Undergraduate Mellon Mays Fellow while at Cornell, she wrote a second thesis about the performance of authenticity in the Ayahuasca Tea Ceremony and the reformulation of ethnic identity for cultural tourism by indigenous Quechua Peruvians. In July 2013, Phoenix graduated from University of Oxford in the United Kingdom with a Masters of Science in Migration Studies. Her dissertation discussed the performance of identity and the gap between local belonging and national authenticity, focusing on the interaction between immigrant Bangladeshi and Senegalese street hawkers and international holidaymakers in Rome and Naples, Italy. Currently, Phoenix is preparing to move to Tel Aviv, Israel for six months to work with African refugees.
- In the Summer of 2006 Lesley Campbell, Tara Collins, Jeffery Halvorsen and Heath McLeod joined Dr. Kassam on the following projects:
- Social Impact Assessment of a resource development project. The project explored the impact on First Nation and non-First Nation communities in Yukon and northern British Columbia.
- Project planning trip to Afghanistan and Tajikistan to look study the link between biological and cultural diversity
- Publishing an edited book with the title: 'Understanding Terror: Canadian Perspectives'
- Lesley Campbell is completing an after degree program majoring in Development Studies. She holds a double major in Anthropology and History from the University of New Brunswick. Her research interests include climate change and the role of social action in increasing public awareness (2006).
- Tara Collins completed her Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies (Honours) at the University of Calgary. Her research interests include collaborative community planning, renewable energy, green building and issues of social equity and diversity. In 2005, she spent four months in Zambia working with subsistence farmers on conservation farming, micro-irrigation and market access.
- Jeffery Halvorsen completed his Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies (Honours) at the University of Calgary. His research interests include the role of journalism in democracy and the role of stakeholder theory in creating relationships between corporations and NGOs to form a socially conscious private sector (2006).
- Heath McLeod holds a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies with a minor in History from the University of Calgary. His research interests include the use of satire for increasing awareness of social issues. He was awarded a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) internship with Mines Action in The Republic of Georgia (2006).
Listed below are internship projects of Dr. Kassam's Northern Planning and Development Studies Students (NPDS) which were geared to integrate their Major with the NPDS programme:
- Supervised Individual Internship Project (NPDS 500) for Renita Schuh (BA Canadian Studies). Renita Schuh’s work involved establishing an organization structure for a local NGO based at Kenya University to find professional and experiential learning opportunities for African students (2003).
- Supervised Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Tavis Baubier (BA Development Studies). Tavis Baubier worked with the Government of Northwest Territories. His role was to review the process of negotiating the devolution of natural resources and environment programs from the Federal Government to the Yukon Government. Then undertake an analysis of the Yukon devolution experience and identify key issues and lessons learned. He subsequently reported these findings to the Government of the Northwest Territories. His work contributed to policy formulation in the North (2002).
- Supervised Individual Internship Project (NPDS 500) entitled "Tlicho Ko -
Dogrib House" for Ouri Scott (General BA with Minor in Architecture). Ms. Scott prepared an architectural design for building a meeting place for the Dogrib First Nations Government in Rae Edzo, Northwest Territories in anticipation of the ratification of the Dogrib self-government agreement with the Federal government (which occurred in 2004). She successfully presented her design to a committee consisting of two professors of architecture (Dr. Lee and Dr. Hamel from the Faculty of Environmental Design), a professor of urban studies (Dr.
Felske), and two professors of native and heritage studies (Dr. Devine and Dr. Wetherell) (2002).
- Supervised Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Stephanie Sanders (BA Distinction, Geography) and Adam Gagnon (BA Geography). Ms. Sanders and Mr. Gagnon raised $16,000 and undertook a Youth Conference entitled Bridging the Gaps: The Role of Youth in Sustainability. 120 University and senior level High School Students attended the three-day conference at a campsite. Representatives of the Government, private sector, academic and NGO institutions participated and made presentations (2001).
- Supervised Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Hugh Moloney (BA
Geography) and Margaret Holroyd (BA Development Studies) who researched for and developed an educational video on alternative means of transportation within the city of Calgary with an emphasis on the use of a bicycle (2001).
- Supervised Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Kendra Ramdanny (BA Distinction, International Relations) developed a consultation strategy for Aboriginal community involvement in oil and gas development. This strategy will be used by field staff and management at British Petroleum Canada to undertake community consultation with Aboriginal people in Alberta (2001).
- Supervisor Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Megan Thompson (BSc.
Ecology) who organized and participated in a Workshop on the Human Ecology and the impact of Chemical Pollutants Project. This workshop discussed research outcomes of the Human Ecology project and determined steps for dissemination and communication of information as well as broad policy action. Community members from indigenous Arctic marine communities from Alaska, Russia and Canada; research scientists and graduate and undergraduate students participated (2001).
- Supervised Individual Internship Project (NPDS 500) for Heather Clitheroe (BA English) who wrote a novel based on factual events and legal transcripts of a shooting of an Aboriginal family in a reserve.
Dr. Kassam’s role was to provide an enabling environment for creative freedom and discuss the role of culture in colonization and de-colonization. Ms. Clitheroe won the Alberta Arts Foundation Award for the published novel entitled A Different Kind of War (2000).
- Supervised Group and Individual Project Internship (NPDS 400 and 500) for Darwin Bateyko (BA Sociology), Jennifer Cardiff (BA Anthropology), Robert Earley (only NPDS 500) who undertook Human Ecology Project research in the Inupiat community of Wainwright, Alaska. They participated in the development of a literature review, interview protocols, training manual for community researchers. The community researchers along with the students undertook 50 interviews and developed traditional marine and land-use maps (1999/2000).
- Supervised Group and Individual Project Internship (NPDS 400 and 500) for Marie Darbousset (BA Development Studies) on Women’s Empowerment research in the Dene and Metis community of Hay River, NWT. She participated in the development of a literature review, interview protocols, and training manual for community researchers. Ms. Darbousset with Dr. Kassam undertook field work, lived on the reserve and worked in Partnership with the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre in the town of Hay River. 40 interviews were undertaken by 3 trained community researchers, Ms. Darbousset and Dr. Kassam (1999/2000).
- Supervised Individual Internship Project (NPDS 500) for Shelly Kovalench (BSc. Geography) who worked with Resource Development Corporation to construct a GIS summer range and habitat map for the reindeer herd on the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula. In order to do this effectively, Shelly took part in reindeer herding in the Beaufort Delta (1999).
- Supervised Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Shelly Kovalench and Robert Earley (BSc. Environmental Sciences) who developed a “Green Map” of the City for the NGO Sustainable Calgary. In addition, they made a video, as a result of a Learning Commons Fellowship, to raise awareness on sustainability issues in Calgary. This video is being used for educational purposes (1999).
- Supervised Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Heather Clitheroe who developed the Journal Arctic index for key word searches for use by students and researchers alike (1999).
- Supervised Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Shawn McCann (BA Canadian Studies) who worked with the Storefront for Voluntary Agencies to create a Youth Advisory Council. Ms. McCann’s role was to develop models for Youth Wellness and the participation of youth in governance and social development issues in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. She also worked towards establishing a Youth Council consisting of indigenous and non-indigenous students (1999).
- Supervised Group and Individual Project Internship (NPDS 400 and 500) for Ciara McNiff (BA Communications) and Bonnie McCluskey (BSc.
Anthropology, BA Canadian Studies) who undertook Human Ecology Project research in the Inuvialuit community of Holman, Northwest Territories.
Participated in the development of a literature review, interview protocols, training manual for community researchers. The community researchers along with Ms. McNiff, Ms. McCluskey and Dr. Kassam undertook 38 interviews and developed traditional marine and land-use maps (1999/2000).
- Supervised Individual Internship Project (NPDS 500) for Heidi Hoernig ( BA Distinction Anthropology, BA Distinction Geography) who chaired a national conference, "Community Development from the Inside Out", which was held on August 21 and 22, 1998. The conference brought together representatives of communities, government, industry and post-secondary institutions to discuss the practical issues involved in traditional knowledge applications in community development. Speakers represented communities and organizations from the three northern territories as well as British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Presentations covered case studies that involved renewable resource management, youth and child care, tourism, governance, language preservation, music, social development, co-management, First Nations, academia and participatory action research projects. The conference was a huge success gaining national recognition. It also enabled various indigenous communities to discuss among other indigenous people, government, researchers and individual citizens issues that are of importance relating to community development (1998).
- Supervised Group Project Internship (NPDS 400) for Chris O’Neil (BA Political Science), Karin Clark (BSc Ecology), and Jana Zavitz (BA Geography) who co-authored a book titled Breaking Ice with Finesse, which tells the fascinating story of pioneering energy exploration in the Beaufort Sea region of the Northwest Territories. This book documents the environmental, socio-economic and technical achievements of that exploration. These students designed the research methodology and conducted both the primary and secondary research (1997).