Nursing, Indigenous Health, Water, and Climate Change


  • Darlene Sanderson Cree
  • Noeman Mirza Thompson Rivers University
  • Mona Polacca Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace
  • Andrea Kennedy Mount Royal University
  • R. Lisa Bourque-Bearskin Thompson Rivers University



Indigenous, Traditional Knowledge, Water, Climate change, Health, Nursing


Nurses have a duty to uphold the right to health. Clean water is vital for health as an inclusive right for all people, yet access is threatened by climate change. Complex impacts of colonization on climate change has resulted in two key problems: lack of clean water access by Indigenous Peoples and marginalization of Indigenous traditional teachings that support water protection. Indigenous teachings of living in harmony with Mother Earth are important contributions to global water policy and health solutions.  Indigenous traditional laws on water protection may be understood through Indigenous water declarations. Nurses have an important opportunity to respect traditional teachings noting interconnections of health, water, and climate change to advance health. Water is life.


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Author Biographies

Darlene Sanderson, Cree

Darlene Sanderson, PhD, RN is of Cree ancestry from Manitoba (Churchill, Norway House) and a mother of two adult children. She is a registered nurse and Assistant Professor with the School of Nursing at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She has worked as a cardiac nurse for 17 years and has since worked with Indigenous peoples locally and globally on water, climate change, and health issues. Her doctoral work focused on Indigenous elderly teachings of the spiritual dimensions of water and the connections between health, education, law and the environment. She has developed curriculum (e.g., graduate and undergraduate nursing and arts courses, as well as experiential learning opportunities co-designed by local Indigenous peoples) and made contributions to the Indigenization of the school of nursing's undergraduate and graduate curricula. She has engaged with Indigenous communities to conduct and deliver Indigenous -led research on water, health and climate change. Her local and global involvements have reflected her passion for the implementation of Indigenous values and practices, relationship building, and collaboration for improving the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

Noeman Mirza, Thompson Rivers University

Noeman A. Mirza, PhD, RN, is an early-career researcher and an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Nursing, University of Windsor. Dr. Mirza’s research focuses on understanding and managing complex situations. He has worked with several Indigenous communities as part of his ongoing scholarship on aging, education, and climate change.

Mona Polacca, Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace

Mona Polacca, MSW is a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes of Parker, Arizona, USA and a Hopi/Havasupai/Tewa Elder.  Mona’s tribal lineage is of the Havasupai, Hopi, and Tewa tribes.  She is a founding member of the Indigenous World Forum on Water & Peace, (IWFWP) a global collective group of Indigenous representatives who have initiated a call for over ten (10) years, to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.   In 2018, she served as a Co- Focal Point for the Indigenous Peoples Program at World Water Forum (WWF), garnering financial sponsorship for the Indigenous Peoples’ participation in the forum, and coordinating delegate representation and giving voice for Indigenous Peoples on at least ten panels in the forum. She currently serves on several United Nations committees on Indigenous peoples’ issues, is a featured author, speaker, and educator on Indigenous peoples’ human rights, aging, mental health, addiction and violence. Mona is the President/CEO and faculty of the Turtle Island Project, a non-profit program that promotes a vision of wellness by providing trans-cultural training to individuals, families and healthcare professionals.

Andrea Kennedy, Mount Royal University

Andrea Kennedy is a registered nurse, educator and researcher dedicated to Indigenous health and nursing education.  She is honoured to learn with Elders. Andrea holds a deep pride for her diverse relations, including Italian, Celtic and Métis ancestry and traditionally adopted Tsuut'ina and hanai Hawaiian families. As an associate professor with the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Mount Royal University, she teaches undergraduate nursing with a decolonizing approach. Andrea is conducting research on advancing reconciliation in higher education and primary health care through social innovation, mentorship and relational learning with Indigenous communities.  

R. Lisa Bourque-Bearskin, Thompson Rivers University

R. Lisa Bourque Bearskin PhD, member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation (AB), is an Early Career Indigenous Nurse Researcher and Associate Professor at Thompson River University, School of Nursing. Dr. Bourque Bearskin was recently appointed with the CIHR Indigenous Nursing Research Chair. She currently holds grants funded by the CIHR Institute for Indigenous Peoples, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and Thompson Rivers University where she initiates community-led research by Indigenous communities. She leads multidisciplinary teams to facilitate the design, delivery and implementation of Indigenous Health Nursing in research, education, policy and practice.  


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How to Cite

Sanderson, D., Mirza, N., Polacca, M., Kennedy, A., & Bourque-Bearskin, R. L. (2020). Nursing, Indigenous Health, Water, and Climate Change. Witness: The Canadian Journal of Critical Nursing Discourse, 2(1), 66–83.