The Faces of CELA: Rachel Arsenault

Blog posted by April Weppler, Engagement Co-ordinator

 What is your role and how long have you been involved with CELA?

CELA contacted me in the summer of 2019 and asked me to be a part of their healthy Great Lakes initiative. My Masters research focused on water insecurity in First Nations and the impacts of the First Nation water crisis on communities. There are many First Nations located along the shores of the Great Lakes, and the community I’m from, Wiikwemkoong, is part of Manitoulin Island which situated in the northeast part of Lake Huron. My role is to provide advice and guidance to CELA based on my experiences and knowledge as an Anishinabek Kwe

What inspired you to get involved in environmental law and public policy?

I was inspired to get involved in environmental law and public policy when I realized that water was not accessible to all people throughout Canada and that many communities throughout the nation had little or no access to clean drinking water. I was inspired to work with CELA because I wanted to learn more about what CELA, other not-for-profits, and NGOs were doing to protect and advocate for Great Lakes protection and conservation.

What’s the most rewarding part of working/volunteering with CELA?

The most rewarding part of working / volunteering with CELA is the networking and learning opportunities that CELA and other not-for-profits and NGOs provide when they talk about their own initiatives and projects. It gives me hope and inspiration that these individuals and groups are volunteering their time and efforts to protect and conserve the Great Lakes, which is something that I strive to do in my own day to day work as well. 

What do you think is Canada’s biggest environmental challenge today?

I think there are two answers to that question, but they are interrelated: water security and climate change. Presently, our aquatic species and wetland habitats are being threatened by changing water temperatures, drying out wetlands, and flooding in other habitats and climate change has also been known to adversely affect water and wastewater infrastructure. As First Nation communities are already experiencing challenges with water security, climate change is exacerbating and worsening existing conditions in their communities. 

How do you think we can best approach this challenge?

I believe in protecting water, advocating for water, and conserving water so that future generations have the same access to water that we do. That being said, I think our challenge now is to find a way to build more resilient communities because researchers and scientists are telling us that these challenges are going to increase with severity over time. I also think we need to ensure that we are including First Nations in discussions and engaging with them as well because they have a lot to contribute to climate change discussions and they hold the solutions to some of their own challenges. 

If you were the Leader of the World, what environmental law or policy would you implement?

This is a funny question since I have no desire to be a Leader of the World, but I can say what I would like a Leader of the World to implement. I would want a world leader to implement an environmental law or policy that would require industries and developers to conduct a minimum of one-year land/water assessments / environmental impact studies to assess how impacts will be to a particular area over the change of seasons. I think some of our problems are rushing projects without taking the proper time to assess how particular areas change over seasons. This is just one idea of many, but that I think is one of the most important. 

When you’re not working on Great Lakes issues, what do you like to do?

Right now, I am a PhD student at York University in Toronto, and I am loving every minute of it. I am still keeping some of my studies focused on water as I am interested in learning about how aquatic species and watersheds are impacted by climate change and I am also still focusing my studies on how First Nations are impacted by climate change and what we researchers can share with communities on becoming more resilient to the effects of climate change.