As a young girl, Ga’ow Oodaa Gretchen Lewandowski revelled in building mud castles and Lego structures, assembling bridges from spaghetti and constructing marble rollercoasters. As a student in mechanical engineering at the University of Victoria, she now has her sights set on designing hydrogen and other renewable energy systems to power small communities and larger urban centres.
“As a planet, we’re on the path of completely demolishing any chances of reversing climate change if we don’t switch over from fossil fuels,” Gretchen says, “especially if big corporations continue to operate the way they do.”
The 17-year-old recipient of this year’s Council of the Haida Nation “Strong Minds, Strong Nation” bursary is from the Haida Staastas Clan and grew up in Nelson, BC. “Since I was a small child, I’ve always been interested in being outdoors and building things,” she says. When she learned about engineering as a profession, Gretchen knew it was something she wanted to do.
“I felt that engineering was something that could help with the climate change problems happening in smaller communities and on a nation-wide scale,” she explains. “I want to at least try to be a part of moving towards a green energy system.”
By implementing alternatives to reduce the need for carbon-emitting fossil fuels and fracking, the aspiring engineer believes, “we could maybe stand a chance by 2050 of making sure we live on the planet for an extra hundred years.”
“I felt that engineering was something that could help with the climate change problems happening in smaller communities and on a nation-wide scale.”
As a young Haida woman, Gretchen feels her connection to the land and the need to preserve it are strengths she brings to the work of furthering human innovation. “Being Indigenous has made me more aware of how humanity has treated the earth as we have become more technologically advanced. Protecting natural habitats and ecosystems is definitely important to me.”
As a woman in a male-dominated profession, Gretchen is calmly confident about what she has to offer. “It’s all about perspective I would say. As a woman you look at the world in a different manner because lots of systems weren’t designed for you at the beginning. So bringing in a perspective of being moderately oppressed can help solve different problems – in fields like civil engineering, for example, or the design of buildings.”
“As a woman you look at the world in a different manner because lots of systems weren’t designed for you at the beginning.”
Gretchen remains hopeful about the future despite the widespread climate change impacts affecting communities worldwide. “I feel like the general knowledge of climate change is widely-known with Canadian youth, especially with the Fridays for the Future marches that were happening before COVID started.”
“I think for our generation climate change is daunting, but we’re prepared to deal with it.”
Congratulations to other recipients of the 2020 Strong Minds, Strong Nation bursary, including Crystal Young, Taylor Lund, Melva Collinson-Young, Olivia Wilson, Madison Brown, Shawnae Robinson, Camellia Brennan, Dawson Sterritt, Devan Boyko, Angel Brown and Gulkihlgad Yakgujanaas.