Engineering Professor Kerry Black says that engineers working with First Nations need to focus on building relationships not just buildings. She’s passionate that her profession has some fundamental changes to make if they are going to be part of reconciliation.
Why You Should Listen
Canada is a water-rich country, so why are 33 Indigenous communities still living under 52 long-term drinking water advisories today?
Before engineers can help, they need to be better listeners. One-size fits all solutions don’t work. This episode reveals how involving communities often results in solutions that last longer, save money, and are more sustainable.
Kerry wishes the TRC Calls to Action specifically referenced the role of infrastructure in communities. She explains why engineering should have been included and encourages engineering companies to follow TRC Call to Action 92.
About Our Guest
Kerry Black is an Assistant Professor and Schulich Research Chair (Integrated Knowledge, Engineering & Sustainable Communities), in the Center for Environmental Engineering Research and Education (CEERE) and the Department of Civil Engineering, at the University of Calgary. She received her PhD from the University of Guelph with research focused on sustainable water and wastewater management in Indigenous communities. Her focus is to engage in a cross-disciplinary research platform, incorporating technical civil and environmental engineering principles and research, with policy and socio-economic components, focusing on sustainable infrastructure for healthy and resilient communities.
Over the past 12 years, she worked extensively in the academic, public, private and non-profit sectors, employed in technical, scientific, policy, and management roles. The majority of my experience has included working with and for Indigenous communities on urgent and pressing infrastructure issues across Canada. Her cross-disciplinary research has been featured in both engineering and social science journals. Dr. Black is a strong advocate for increasing diversity in science and engineering, sustainability initiatives and programs, and community development, including her work with Indigenous communities, including most recently with the Assembly of First Nations and the British Columbia First Nations Housing & Infrastructure Council.
On sustainable energy engineering
>> 26:40: When you think about the number of scientists who are doing sustainability research and climate change research and water-based research and all sorts of things that are rooted in the land and not…none of them are necessarily actively encouraged to incorporate, and I hate the word incorporate, but integrate meaningfully work with their Indigenous communities or partners, which should be like a [pre-requirement] for the job, should be that for every non-Indigenous scientist you have an Indigenous scientist.
On Indigenous communities in Canada
>> 12:55: If there’s anybody who has a stronger track record of living with, and in harmony with nature and the environment, it’s not necessarily my ancestors. It’s Indigenous Peoples who are, you know, fundamentally have all of this knowledge and ways of being and ways of knowing.
On clean water in Indigenous communities
>> 13:15: 10 years ago, when I started diving into, you know, the water issues and the approach was: well, we need to give them better technology, right? We need to give our First Nations or Indigenous communities better access to water treatment technologies.
>>13:34: Well, it’s hard to say that’s a solution when non-Indigenous communities across Canada have no problem turning on the tap and getting clean, safe, drinking water.
On empowering Indigenous communities
>> 18:29: My responsibility as an engineer is to help undo the harm that, you know, colonial practices have encouraged and as my profession has actually sustained. You know, the engineering profession hasn’t gone against the grain of that. They’ve actually for the large part in the history of my profession, has actually done more harm than good with respect to our work with Indigenous Peoples. So, I feel that part of our responsibility is to foster that reconnection, to view yourself, not as the individual with a solution, but as a facilitator of that kind of connection.
>> 16:45: Every community is in a little bit of a different place, but largely speaking, they’ve all been forcibly disconnected from a lot of these processes and not encouraged to be meaningful, active participants and not recognized for the value that they bring. So, in these processes, we really try and foster a community-based solution. And there’s some good examples somewhere when you actually involve meaningfully the community, you’re going to arrive at solutions that will last longer, they’re more sustainable in that sense, but they also will inevitably cost less when you actually involve the community.
In This Episode
- Sixties Scoop
- Kerry Black’s Research Website
- Government of Canada—Ending Long-Term Drinking Water Advisories
- TRC Call to Action 92 – Business and Reconciliation