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Leah Horowitz named a 2019 recipient of the Vilas Early Career Investigator Award

May 8, 2019

Assistant Professor, Leah Horowitz, who holds a joint appointment at the Nelson Institute and School of Human Ecology, has been named a 2019 recipient of the Vilas Early Career Investigator Award. Made possible through the generosity of the Vilas Trust, the award recognizes research and teaching excellence in faculty who are relatively early in their careers. The award will provide Horowitz with $100,000 in flexible funding over two years to be used towards her research with tribes in North and South Dakota, who are facing concerns about their drinking water supplies and sacred places due to multi-million-dollar oil pipelines that pass underneath waterways on their traditional lands.    

“I am very honored and thrilled to receive this award,” said Horowitz. “I am very grateful to both the Nelson Institute and the School of Human Ecology for all their support. A special shout-out goes to Paul Zedler and Paul Robbins, who wrote the letters of nomination.”

To date, Horowitz has been working with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and will begin working with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and, pending tribal research permission, other tribes along the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. She is particularly interested in understanding how local people, particularly Indigenous people, can protect their natural and cultural resources. 

 “I am looking forward to continuing to build long-term relationships with the tribes that will hopefully allow us to co-produce research that benefits them as well as society as a whole,” said Horowitz. “Ultimately, I want to know what are the most effective ways that local people, and particularly Indigenous people, who see not only natural resources but also cultural and/or spiritual values in the landscape, can protect their resources.”

In particular, Horowitz will study how legal systems offer assistance, what role activism plays, and how non-Native and/or non-local allies can help local residents achieve their goals.

“Work that honestly starts in the community, with all of its complexity, while observing the rigor of powerful social science, is rare,” said Nelson Institute Dean, Paul Robbins. “This is especially the case for researchers working with Indigenous populations. The Vilas Early Career Investigator Award for Dr. Horowitz honors just this kind of incredibly important, and dauntingly difficult, work.”

In addition to this research, Horowitz has also been involved in shorter-term projects in Malaysia and New Jersey, which explored local residents’ responses to government forest conservation efforts. The bulk of her work, however, has taken place in New Caledonia, a Melanesian archipelago in the South Pacific that contains about a quarter of the world’s nickel reserves. She has been studying the Indigenous Kanak communities’ responses to the addition of two refineries built by multinational mining companies.

“Professor Horowitz’s research epitomizes what the Nelson Institute was created to do. To tackle an environmental conflict and analyze it from multiple viewpoints in search of the most equitable solutions,” said Paul Zedler, Associate Dean at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “It is particularly apt that she will focus on issues related to Indigenous rights.” Read more.