Fellow Story

Suiseeya crafts relationships between interdisciplinary researchers and Indigenous intellectuals

Kimberly Marion Suiseeya’s experiences marrying localized data and community knowledge to solve global problems were featured in a November 2023 Northwestern Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences News. The following is an excerpt from the story, read the full article here

For someone interested in environmental policy and biodiversity conservation, Kimberly Marion Suiseeya was excited to work in Laos, the small landlocked country bordered by Thailand and Vietnam.

Laos, after all, boasted a model conservation program. It was the first Southeast Asian country with a scientifically designed national park system, one in which 20 percent of the nation’s land was protected and every ecosystem was represented. Yet more, the government did not expel or relocate communities outside of the parks once they were established.

On paper, the country’s approach seemed progressive, thoughtful, and sharp – a model Suiseeya could potentially export to other parts of the world interested in safeguarding habitats and promoting biological diversity.

But once in Laos, Suiseeya found reality telling a different story.

“While we were trying to make sure communities were not harmed in our work, we weren’t really good at it. The approaches themselves constrained what would be possible on the ground to really address community concerns,” Suiseeya says. “I wondered: why aren’t our approaches to engaging communities working?”

Ignited by that experience halfway around the world some 15 years ago, Suiseeya has devoted her professional academic life to investigating the justice dimensions of environmental governance, principally how different policies and approaches to addressing issues like biodiversity loss and climate change impact people and communities.

Since arriving at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences in 2016, Suiseeya, an associate professor in the department of political science, has continued researching policy design and its ties to injustice as well as how communities, namely Indigenous communities, respond to injustice, including efforts such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But Suiseeya’s exploration has led to a frustrating realization: much of the climate-related work of Indigenous Peoples was overlooked, if not ignored. As such, the justice possibilities languished and fell short of their potential.

Spurred by three distinct National Science Foundation grants, Suiseeya now aims to reorient how climate-related research is conducted with Indigenous communities and, even more, redesign approaches to environmental governance – or what Suiseeya calls “landscapes of justice possibilities for communities.”

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