Emma S. Norman, Ph.D.



In general, my work is at the nexus of environmental geography, political geography, and cultural geography, intervening in wider academic and policy discussions related to water governance in multicultural and multijurisdictional settings. My research is informed by discussions in the literature on environmental justice, political ecology, and border studies.

I explore how governance models designed to govern flow resources such as water are able to transcend political borders - or, in some cases, reify borders.  I consider the politics created around the act of 'bordering', particularly, but not solely in a post-colonial context.  Much of my work looks at the power and politics associated with governance of resources.  My work with Indigenous communities who span and predate political borders highlight the ongoing impacts of colonial settlement patterns and systems. In my research, I investigate how new governance mechanisms designed to address pressing environmental concerns are also being used as tools by Indigenous leaders to unify communities and reclaim transnational identity (and space).  In general, my research brings into conversation the politics of scale with the governance of shared resources. I explore these issues both in the classroom, where I teach courese realted to human and environmental geography, political ecology and environmental justice, and through my writing. Download full research statement here.

Research Themes Include

  • Transboundary Water Governance (with an emphasis on the Canada - U.S. border) 
  • ​Politics of Scale and Water Governance
  • Indigenous Governance and Self-Determination
  • Water Security, Governance, and Adaptive Management   
  • Role of Civil Society in Global Environmental Governance 
  • Cultural Politics and Natural Resource Management (with an emphais on the Salish Sea and Great Lakes Basin)

New Projects:

CNH: Managing Impacts of Global Transport of Atmosphere-Surface Exchangeable Pollutants in the Context of Global Change

I am currently co-PI on a multi-disciplinary, $1.45 million National Science Foundation Grant,  working with a team of researchers from Michigan Technological University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston University, to investigate the global trends of chemical pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and mercury. As part of this project, we aim to understand the mechanisms in place to govern these “invisible” and widespread extraterritorial pollutants, and to make recommendations on how to better mediate their negative impacts. A key consideration in the investigation is how indigenous communities on the shores of Lake Superior – whose traditional foods have become contaminated – are often poorly represented in decision-making and governance activities.

Link to Michigan Tech Project Webpage 
Link to NSF Project



Water without Borders? Policy Briefs

Flashpoints and Collaboration:
How problems can inspire innovative solutions.

The Canada-US border offers a leading example of transboundary water governance. These two countries have worked together for more than one hundred years –through changing economic and social climates – to co-manage shared resources. With more than 8,800 kilometres of shared borders (including 2,475 kilometres with Alaska), and huge bodies of water to co-manage (from the Great Lakes to hundreds of rivers and streams that flow across and between the border), considerable scope exists for potential competition and conflict, exacerbated by growing population and increased demands for water use over the course of the 20th century.

Yet, despite sustained engagement in the governance process, “hotspots” or “flashpoints” still exist.  These briefs explore the reasons for these flashpoints, discuss current approaches to address issues of shared concern, and show the value of continued engagement in the governance process. 

This set of briefs draws on five of the most visible flashpoints along the shared waters between Canada and the U.S.


Each brief is organized into three main sections: Background and Context, Challenges and Opportunities, and Recommendations.

The briefs are the product of an ongoing project, Water without Borders? funded through the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.  The briefs were drawn from and informed by the work presented in our recently published book: Water without Borders? Canada, the United States and Shared Waters. www.waterwithoutborders.info  The project has been coordinated through the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Emma S. Norman

Chair, Environmental Science Department
Northwest Indian College
2522 Kwina Road
Bellingham, WA 98226

Visit nwic www.nwic.edu