Norma Kassi


Co-Founder & Director of Indigenous Collaboration

I was raised and educated in Old Crow, Yukon; I am Vuntut Gwitchin (People of the Lakes) and a member of the Wolf Clan. It was in Old Crow flats where I gained my depth of traditional, scientific and ecological knowledge. My grandfather, mother and the land were the bearers of this invaluable, ancient knowledge, which was passed on to me at a very young age. This knowledge has woven me into the land of the Vuntut Gwitchin and has given me an understanding of my homelands and the beings in which the land is shared.

Encouraged by my Elders, I entered politics shortly after leaving school. In 1985, I was elected into Yukon's Legislative Assembly as Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, a position I held until 1992. During this time, I was selected by the Elders of the Gwitchin Nation to act as a spokesperson on behalf of the Gwitchin people for the preservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. This Caribou Herd is the lifeblood of my people, and were (and still are) at risk due to proposed oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As a spokesperson, I traveled extensively throughout the world educating many people about the critical and inseparable relationship of the Gwitchin people and the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and the devastating effects of the proposed industrial development. My audiences have included grassroots Americans, United States Congressional members and Senators, World leaders, Aboriginal communities throughout the Arctic and across North America, as well as appearances on Canadian, American and British network television. Stemming from this work, I had the opportunity to produce, direct and narrate three documentary films.

In 1991 I was awarded the National Wildlife Federation's Conservation and Achievement Award, and the Goldman Prize in 2002, one of the world's highest profile awards for Conservation. In 2004, I was chosen by the Governor General of Canada the Right Honorable Adrienne Clarkson to travel with a National delegation of dignitaries on a speaking tour through out Russia.

From 1995 to 1998, due to concern of contaminants in traditional foods, I was the Environmental Manager for the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN). In this capacity, I headed the CYFN Northern Contaminants Program, and was Chair of Centre for Indigenous People Nutrition and Environment – CINE. The latter was with Dr. Harriet Kuhnlein, Director of CINE at McGill University, where I initiated and conducted dietary studies of Yukon First Nations in collaboration with Dr. Kuhnlein and others.

I achieved my Mediation & Negotiation training at the BC Justice Institute. As a Consultant, I have developed and facilitated numerous workshops throughout Canada. Workshop topics included health and the environment, policy development, Conflict Resolution, Communications/Advocacy, Community Development, Cross Cultural Awareness and Violence against Women and Children. I also facilitated workshops across the country for the Government of Canada for policy development on the Commemoration Initiative in Honoring and Recognizing the Survivors of Residential Schools.

My work is global in perspective and I have gained a greater understanding of the overall effects of the vast changes to the people of the Arctic and their environments, witnessing first hand the increase of chronic diseases. For these reasons I am now focusing on the health of the Arctic's Indigenous Peoples.

I co-founded Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research and worked as Co-Director until I was elected Chief of Vuntut Gwitchin in November 2010. As Co-Director of AICBR, I was engaged in Community Based Health Research, particularly with Yukon First Nations. This work included identifying health research priorities with Yukon First Nations communities, capacity building and training of First Nations in the area of health, and developing ways to translate knowledge that is inclusive, sustainable and beneficial to the communities.

It is my strong traditional values and early years on the land which have provided me with the ability to be able to remain true to my people, our culture and way of life, while living in the twenty- first century and traveling internationally to act as an advocate and voice, not only for my people, but also for Aboriginal peoples across the globe.