Case Study

Advancing Indigenous Inclusivity Within the Canadian Environmental Law Association’s "Healthy Great Lakes" Program


The Healthy Great Lakes program is a community-driven initiative facilitated by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). Through knowledge sharing and capacity building, staff of the Healthy Great Lakes program work to advance water policies that protect the Great Lakes region.

Across its portfolio of work, CELA understands the importance of inclusivity in their effort to protect both people and the planet from environmental degradation. So when they recognized that the Healthy Great Lakes program could benefit from increased engagement with Indigenous communities, they sought to become more far-reaching in their ability to create positive change.

Our Indigenous Engagements team helped core CELA staff identify operational and programmatic changes that would make the Healthy Great Lakes program and other CELA initiatives more connected to Indigenous land and water stewardship initiatives. We carefully examined CELA’s current offerings against their goals of greater inclusivity and established metrics for inclusion that would help them understand what areas had the most to gain from policy improvements and new approaches.

We focused on two priorities: understanding the implications of CELA’s current policies on the ability of Indigenous organizations and communities to engage with their work, and exploring avenues the Healthy Great Lakes program could offer support to existing Indigenous-led initiatives within the region. After consultations with core CELA staff, we provided a report concisely outlining recommendations to accomplish both of these priorities, connected to their larger organizational goal of protecting public health and the environment.

With the report in hand, CELA was able to centre and articulate plans for improved Indigenous engagement and leadership within the Healthy Great Lakes program and, ultimately, were successful in securing renewed funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Over the next two years, CELA will be working with Indigenous advisors and collaborators to co-create solutions aimed at building meaningful relationships and increasing participation in water-related decision-making in the Great Lakes region.

"By directing some Healthy Great Lakes funding to work with Coeuraj, Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) has found immense value both at the programmatic and organizational levels. CELA immediately used Coeuraj’s recommendations to shape plans for increased Indigenous engagement and leadership within the Healthy Great Lakes program and has successfully secured renewed funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to further this work.

CELA is also in a better position to crystallize and articulate our work on Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in the geographies where CELA provides legal services. CELA will continue to grow our responsibility and accountability to Indigenous communities, groups, organizations, and peoples by implementing Coeuraj’s recommendations."

—Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director, CELA

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