Christopher Alcantara receives Royal Society of Canada Yvan Allaire Medal

September 13, 2022

Christoper Alcantara

Photo by Paul Mayne/Story by Rob Rombouts

Christopher Alcantara has received the Yvan Allaire Medal from the Royal Society of Canada, which recognizes a distinguished contribution in the area of governance.

Alcantara, professor in the Department of Political Science at Western University, researches multi-level governance, with a particular focus on Indigenous communities, and Indigenous-settler relations. Past recipients have included researchers in business, public policy and political science.

“Indigenous communities have their own priorities and I wanted to produce research with the communities to help address their priorities,” said Alcantara, “and to help the Crown to think about how they can address these priorities.”

“Indigenous communities are constantly creating new political and economic institutions to help better their communities. Some ideas struggle and some succeed,” he said. “The communities know about these decisions, but they are not well known outside each community.”

Without a full understanding of the specific communities, or of the decision-making process, proposed solutions may not have the intended impact. One pertinent example is the boiled water advisories facing many First Nations communities. Most proposed responses focus on local solutions - building water treatment plants or training staff – or federal responses, in the form of more funding.

In conversation with members of a First Nation, Alcantara learned that any solution would also need to include new forms of governance at the community level, including decision-making structures that allow water to be distributed and managed in a sustainable way.

“New water plants can be built but if they are overused, these plants will die prematurely,” he said, “but if communities can create effective governance structures and regulations that honour Indigenous traditional knowledge, it will help create sustainability in the systems.”

In an upcoming project, Alcantara intended to collect publicly available data on Indigenous level political participation in Canada and the United States, at the band and tribal level respectively, including who runs for office, and who wins. The intent is to collect the information to make it available in one place for others who may want to examine these data.

For Alcantara, the award is a great honour, “It’s the biggest award I have received. The first major award for the whole body of my work.”

The inaugural recipient of the medal was Donald J. Savoie. “He’s a big name in Canadian Political Science, someone I read as a student,” said Alcantara. “To win an award he won, it’s humbling and surreal.”

Hear more about Alcantara's research: