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NOBA 2021: Larissa Stevens of LBS Environmental Consulting is the Young Entrepreneur of the Year

A decade of experience under her belt, Stevens is currently working as community consultation coordinator for the Marten Falls Community Access Road project

Larissa Stevens considers herself a bit of a "shapeshifter."

Whether it's her natural ease in explaining a development project in a public engagement session or relaying the thoughts and concerns of a First Nation community to a group of engineers in a boardroom setting, the Thunder Bay-based environmental scientist is considered a trusted figure.

The 36-year-old Métis owner and president of LBS Environmental Consulting has spent a decade as a specialist in environmental consulting and Indigenous community engagement.

One of her supporters wrote in a nomination letter about her expertise in the field and her prowess to operate and communicate effectively in any environment.

"Her ability to understand, work and communicate across multiple levels and disciplines and focus her scientific knowledge of water systems and environmental consultation experience through an Indigenous lens brings a ground-level perspective to political and strategic discussions, or vice versa," wrote Marten Falls Chief Bruce Acheepineskum.

Though she is not a decision-maker, her supporters said Stevens is a trusted authority to bring forward "not-biased, meaningful information that allows for informed decision-making."

"I'm really good at sitting down with community members and breaking down the science into concepts that they can readily relate to," said Stevens. "I kinda take out some of the technical jargon, where we can, so that way people can understand it better."

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And on the flip side, "I can sit in the boardroom and let them know what people on the ground are thinking. They might have a great idea and I give them suggestions on how to implement it, so that way it's better received."

LBS began as a sole proprietorship in 2018, before incorporating last December when Stevens was tasked to be the community consultation coordinator to work on the Marten Falls Community Access Road.

Stevens works with the environmental lead, the project director and a couple of community advisors on the project team for the road project.

"It's definitely the biggest project I've taken on," said Stevens, who is knee deep in the new government environmental assessment rules for the road project. "It's a learning curve for everyone."

Her duties involve preparing public meetings, such as coordination of the venues, preparing materials, delivery of presentations, and maintaining the record of project consultation.

Born in Winnipeg and raised in Thunder Bay, Dryden and Sioux Lookout, Stevens grew up in a family of firefighters.

So by extension, "I decided to study water."

Schooled in geology and water resource science at Lakehead University, Stevens brings to the table a decade's worth of experience and technical expertise in environmental site assessments, soil remediation and compliance monitoring, and Indigenous advisory and engagement and consultancy services.

Since entering the field as a junior technologist working for Terrapex Environmental in 2009, Stevens has specialized in remote First Nations work, beginning with identifying and formulating remediation plans for contaminated areas caused by fuel spills.

"I work for the communities," said Stevens.

She takes pride in providing 'politically neutral,' trustworthy and transparent data, enabling Indigenous leaders and people to make good decisions and better participate in mining, mineral exploration and infrastructure development.

With her knowledge of Indigenous rights, Stevens serves as an invaluable point of contact for management consultants, policy consultants, and environmental engineering groups that are new to the area.

"What I really bring is that local knowledge, because I've done assessments and remediations in remote communities," said Stevens. "I know the service providers and the challenges faced when doing environmental work. I bring that local knowledge to the consultants, which is really helpful when they're not from around here."

Through her career journey in working for a handful of environmental engineering firms and Indigenous authorities in northwestern Ontario, Stevens became a known commodity to Marten Falls First Nation, having worked with the remote James Bay area community on previous road studies.

The Marten Falls Community Access Road Project is a proposed permanent road connecting the community with the Ontario provincial highway network. The proposed length of the road is approximately 190 to 230 kilometres.

The project's terms of reference were approved in mid-October. Environmental assessment work is starting.

Should mineral-rich areas of the Far North open up for development, Stevens acknowledges her expertise and skills will undoubtedly be in demand with more work likely ahead for years to come.

"The road and the network is going to be the backbone of everything," said Stevens.

Mining in the Ring of Fire stands to be a life-changing socioeconomic event for Indigenous people for generations to come. Not only will there be mining-related jobs but there will be plenty of employment opportunities to do road maintenance and environmental monitoring.

"I'm pretty excited and proud to be a small part of the project. I know what I do is really supporting First Nation participation."

While looking to eventually hire a technician to lighten the workload, Stevens admits she is eager to be a role model, especially for women trying to break into the environmental consulting field. 

"It's really not easy trying to do this work and try to have a family," said the single mother of two hockey-playing kids, ages eight and 11.

"I've lost jobs, twice, after being pregnant. I've been through the ringer before. I know the challenges. I've walked on site and have people say, 'Who's sending this little girl here?'"

She also hopes to work with PARO – the Thunder Bay-based social enterprise organization for women, who helped her get incorporated and up to speed on running a business – to further promote women getting into this line of work, to start small businesses, and take advantage of community economic development activities across Ontario.

Since launching in 1986, the Northern Ontario Business Awards has become the largest annual gathering of its kind in Northern Ontario. These awards serve to heighten the visibility and influence of business in the North and bring peer recognition to the business leaders who create prosperity and economic growth.