sherilee harper

EcoHealth Research with Indigenous Communities

Examining Climate Change Adaptation in Nunatsiavut

Nia King copyWritten by Nia King, BScH Candidate

Starting at 330am, it was a good day — it was mild outside with clear skies and a light snow. After a cat nap at the airport and then arriving to the cash register at Tim’s, only to be told that the gentleman in front of me had paid for my tea, I was off to Montreal for a day of meetings regarding an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Ouranos contract for a report addressing climate change adaptation in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut. Upon arrival to Montreal, I quickly realized that Guelph campus is not exactly representative of most universities (ie. you can’t just wander McGill campus waiting to stumble on the building for which you are looking). Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous cold winter day out, which I’ve been missing given that I’m from Ottawa and Guelph has been so mild, and after asking numerous students for directions, I made it to the meeting and we started with a productive group meeting working alongside Ouranos team members to establish the project deliverables and timelines. I had the pleasure of spending the day collaborating with one of James Ford’s students, Cheenar, with whom I’ll be working closely for the upcoming two months. After the initial group meeting, Cheenar and I spent the day finalizing our methodologies such that the Nunavik and Nunatsiavut report sections are easily comparable. While I was only in Montreal for 10 hours, I’m already excited for the project to come and to get to collaborate further with members from the Ford Lab and Ouranos!

Carlee Attends “Water Innovations for Health Arctic Homes”

Written by Carlee Wright, MSc Candidate

Anchorage, Alaska | Sept 18-21, 2016

September has been a non-stop month full of school-related travel, and I am very fortunate to have recently returned from the Water Innovations for Healthy Arctic Homes (WIHAH) conference in Anchorage, Alaska ( The Arctic Council Sustainable Development Working Group has endorsed a project titled “Improving Health through Safe and Affordable Access to Household Running Water and Sewer in Arctic and Sub-Arctic communities”, with the WIHAH conference comprising one of its objectives.

This conference was a vital opportunity for community members, professionals, and researchers from the United States, Canada, and Greenland to come together and discuss all aspects of drinking water in northern communities. Despite being developed nations with high overall service rates for household water and sewerage, many people living in rural and remote areas experience lower service rates, and face issues with accessing clean water in adequate quantities. Over 3000 homes in rural Alaska do not have any piped water, and instead rely on honey buckets and hauling drinking water home from central watering points in the community. Collection and storage of drinking water in containers also occurs in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut (The community with which I have worked), and so I was very interested in attending presentations and sharing my own research with such a diverse audience.

Over the 4-day program I was able to meet Alaska natives, economists, microbiologists, engineers, health researchers, and many others who were passionate about improving access to safe water in northern communities. Hearing about the realities of living without running water in some communities, and the immense resources required to provide water and sanitation services was overwhelming at times; however, it was also inspiring to hear success stories and learn about innovations and progress being made. For example, the Alaska water and sewage challenge ( is a competition to develop affordable and sustainable water and waste systems that can be implemented in rural Alaskan villages (and hopefully other communities in the future). The challenge is down to three finalists, who unveiled their prototypes at the conference; I was even able to see a functioning prototype at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus!

Finally, a trip to Alaska cannot be complete without some outdoor fun, and so my trip concluded with a day cruise through Prince William Sound. It was a misty day (which happened to make everything look even more astonishing under the low-lying clouds), and although I have yet to see a moose on my two trips to Alaska, I was lucky enough to see bald eagles, belugas, otters, and orcas while out on the water. Getting so close to glaciers and appreciating their size and natural beauty is also something that I am not likely to forget any time soon!

This conference was an amazing opportunity to reconnect, make new acquaintances, learn, and think critically about water management and the future of water and sanitation in northern communities. For this I am incredibly grateful, and in the future I hope that I can continue to take part in more collaborative and transdisciplinary events such as WIHAH.

More resources:

Hennessy TW, Bressler JM. Improving health in the Arctic region through safe and affordable access to household running water and sewer services: an Arctic Council initiative. Int J Circumpolar Health. 2016;1:1-6.


When in Rome, learn about epi!

Written by Julia Bryson

At the tail end of the summer I had the exciting opportunity to attend the annual congress of the International Society on Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) in Rome, Italy. The title of the conference, “Old and new risks: challenges for environmental epidemiology,” set the tone for what was to be a productive meeting of researchers, experts, policy-makers, public health professionals, and students coming together to discuss the identification and mitigation of environmental hazards to health, from past to future.

Upon arriving, I was quick to notice that the proportion of students amongst the attendees was quite low. Needless to say, as an undergraduate student in a crowd of seasoned experts and renowned researchers, I felt decidedly ‘out of my league’. However, I came to realize that everyone was there to learn, and while I had more of that to do than others, my participation and abilities were not to be discounted by my relative lack of experience. With this in mind, I tackled the three packed days ahead.

Over the weekend, I was happy to discover that the conference featured several parallel sessions and posters on the impacts of climate change on human health; these provided me with valuable information and perspective as I pursue my systematic review investigating the influences of climate change on the neglected tropical diseases in East Africa. Many of these researchers have faced the same barriers that I am dealing with, including the dearth of research in populations of low socioeconomic status and the sometimes lacking quality of data collected in unstable, resource-poor populations where conditions are hard to control. It was encouraging to see others working through these obstacles and forming important conclusions that may help to shape policy for future.

It came as a surprise to me, but the discussions around policy and ethics in environmental epidemiology were perhaps most engaging and valuable to me as a new student in the field. These talks ranged in topic from the role of the epidemiologist in the justice system, to the ethics of data sharing and communication with the public. Provocative questions were posed that I had never considered, such as ‘How do we reconcile the definition of “significant” in the field of research (often set at a level of 5% or 1% probability that results are due to chance), with that of the legal system, where a 51%-49% split or ‘more probable than not’ is the accepted standard?’ and, ‘How do we balance the demands of policy-makers and the public for results now with the reality that epidemiological studies often take years to complete?’ These questions forced me to think critically about the issues at hand and they exposed me to new philosophies and challenges within epidemiology. It was also reassuring that for these questions everyone in the room was having trouble coming to a solution! Some fascinating debates resulted.

Without doubt, I came away from ISEE will many ‘big ideas’ about this field of research. I learned that in epidemiology, there is always the need for more research as populations and exposures change. I learned the importance of understanding how to convey risks transparently and with context when your ultimate audience is the public. I learned how significant community health policy partnerships are to ensuring that research is able to facilitate positive change, which often happens outside of the lab through the courts or government. My attendance also helped to highlight areas for growth, particularly my understanding of different epidemiological methodologies and analytical models. A stronger foundation in these areas will help me to improve my comprehension and appreciation of others’ work, and better understand how I can strengthen my own research.

In the end, it sometimes seems like I left this conference with more questions than I arrived with. But in many ways, that was one of my aspirations! I attended ISEE 2016 to expose myself to different areas in epidemiology, to challenge myself with new concepts, and to be inspired as I move forward with my research. I am happy to say that my attendance accomplished these goals and more. I have no doubt that what I have learned as a result of this experience, and what it has encouraged me to learn about in the future, will be of great value. And with that – Ciao, Roma, e grazie mille per tutti!

Photos by Moreno Maggi ( and Julia Bryson.

And then we made a podcast… Adventures in integrative knowledge mobilization

Written by Lindsay Day, MSc Candidate

It was with great excitement that we launched the “Water Dialogues” podcast last week at

Nearly a year in the making, the collaborative podcast is based on a Canadian Water Network-funded project, and examines the need for, and our struggle towards, using Indigenous and Western knowledge systems together to address the water issues we face in Canada today.

Audio-recordings were taken during a Water Gathering event that brought together First Nations, Inuit, Metis and non-Indigenous water experts, researchers, and knowledge holders from across Canada. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Conferences

Written by Alexandra Sawatzky, PhD Student

During the week of April 25, I had the privilege of attending and presenting at two conferences: the Sparking Population Health Solutions International Summit in Ottawa, and the Transforming Health Care in Remote Communities conference in Edmonton. These incredible experiences, although separated by approximately 3500 kilometers, did an outstanding job of bringing people and their ideas together. I had Great Expectations for these conferences, which ended up being exceeded in every way possible.

Continue reading

Rebecca Wolff Presents at 2016 Consortium of Universities for Global Health!

Congratulations to Rebecca Wolff for sharing her research results at the 2016 Consortium of Universities for Global Health in San Francisco!

Poster citation:  Wolff, R., Harper, S.L., Carcamo, C., Bussalleu Cavero, A., IHACC Research Team, and Llanos-Cuentas, A. (April 2016). “Its spirit is strong:” Shawi Spirits, Healers & Diarrhea in the Peruvian Amazon. Consortium of Universities for Global Health 2016 Conference, San Francisco, USA.

Wolff Poster