INTERWEAVING WESTERN SCIENCE AND INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE: “My work related to water and reconciliation has put the spotlight on a new angle. Is reconciliation just dealing with the past and acknowledging the pain and moving on, or is it something more complex than that?” asked Michael Blackstock, Indigenous Independent Scholar and creator of Blue Ecology

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“SHARE INFORMATION. INFORM DECISIONS.” This soundbite lines up nicely with the mission of Waterbucket eNews which is to help our readers make sense of a complicated world. Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the vision for Living Water Smart in British Columbia to build greener communities and adapt to a changing climate; and embrace “design with nature” approaches to reconnect people, land, fish, and water in altered landscapes. 

Watershed Moments, the Vancouver Island Symposia Series on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate is a forum for showcasing what can be accomplished through collaboration. In this edition, the Partnership for Water Sustainability is excited to announce that Michael Blackstock of Blue Ecology fame will be part of the team for Watershed Moments 2021, the fourth in the Symposia Series. Michael is passionate about interweaving Indigenous knowledge and Western science.

EDITOR’S PERSPECTIVE on Water Reconciliation


“Blue Ecology is an idea whose time has come. Long recognized by UNESCO and the International Association of Hydrological Sciences, Blue Ecology is defined as the interweaving of Western science and traditional First Nations teaching and local knowledge,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“Watershed Moments 2021, which will be held later in the year, will shine a light on Blue Ecology. Michael Blackstock, the visionary behind Blue Ecology, is the newest member of the Watershed Moments Team. Michael’s work illuminates how those of us with a passion for water could, over time, develop a relationship of trust and understanding with First Nations communities.”

WHY THE FOCUS ON WATER RECONCILIATION:

“My work related to water and reconciliation has put the spotlight on a new angle,” Michael Blackstock said at a meeting of the Watershed Moments Team. “Is reconciliation just dealing with the past and acknowledging the pain and moving on, or is it something more complex than that? The complexity is that if we are asking folks to change their attitude towards water, what does that mean?”

“At Symposium 2021, the Watershed Moments Team will introduce the notion of WATER RECONCILIATION: going back to the headwaters of where we got our relationships with water and with one another wrong; and then starting back down the river of time – this time together – with a full understanding of the importance of embracing a water-first approach to planning human interventions in the environment.”

“We know that this will be hard work. Why is that? Well, what we are essentially talking about is influencing a culture-shift in all of our settings. Success would be measured over time. And the measure of success would be how BC communities put into practice what they learn from First Nations about their place-based connection to the land.”

“At the annual Water Sustainability Workshop hosted by the Partnership in 2014, Angus McAllister the well-known pollster observed that: “Water brings people together. It is a natural starting point for any conversation about common interests, and by extension, our shared future.” This Angus McAllister quotable quote provides a succinct answer to the question: Why focus on water reconciliation?”

To learn more, visit www.watershed-moments.ca 

About the Watershed Moments Series

The Partnership for Water Sustainability and NALT, the Nanaimo & Area Land Trust, are the founding partners for the series. Four Vancouver Island regional districts, along with federal and provincial representatives, are members of the Watershed Moments Team. In particular, the Regional District of Nanaimo has been a mainstay of the Symposium Series since its inception in 2018.

Watershed Moments is a building blocks process:

Each symposium event builds on the last and points the way to the next. Each provides a neutral forum for local elected representatives, local government staff, stewardship groups and others to ‘convene for action’ to improve where we live. Symposia programs are built around success stories – inspirational in nature, local in scale, and precedent-setting in scope and outcome. In short, these precedents can be replicated and/or adapted in other communities.

The over-arching message for Watershed Moments is applicable to any region: 

Simply put, it is to focus on improving where people live through implementation of good strategies. These will provide communities with a path to success. There are two guiding principles. First, reconnect hydrology and stream ecology by design – because what happens on the landscape matters to streams! Second, shrink our destructive footprint while growing the restorative footprint – because sustainable is attainable.


The date for Watershed Moments 2021 has yet to be decided, other than that the window under consideration for this virtual event is the period mid-October through mid-November. Stay tuned for future announcements.

A Message from the Chair

“To date, the Water Stewardship Symposia Series has focused on the effects of development (settlement) on our watersheds creating an imbalance in the natural paths of rainwater across the landscape. This is not the only imbalance that exists when it comes to our collective water stewardship and water management practices,” states Paul Chapman, Executive Director, Nanaimo & Area Land Trust (NALT) and Chair, Watershed Moments Team.

“The rights of First Nations on the land and water and the millennia of Indigenous stewardship of the land and water have for too long been ignored or marginalized. An imbalanced relationship, whether with water or between cultures, is not sustainable. Imbalance is doomed to failure.”

“For a resilient future, a building of relationships and understanding, and a return to natural water balance are necessary. Balance is imperative. Blue Ecology offers a path to bridge the distance between cultures and build a new understanding of water and community.”

MICHAEL BLACKSTOCK – Reflections on Interweaving Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science

In 2008, Michael Blackstock was appointed to a UNESCO Expert Panel for a 4-year term. His work on the Expert Panel led to an invitation to speak at an international symposium held in October 2008 by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS). This resulted in a peer-reviewed paper, published in February 2009, and titled Blue Ecology and climate change: interweaving cultural perspectives on water, an indigenous case study.

While international recognition gave Blue Ecology early credibility and profile, there was little or no awareness within British Columbia of what Michael Blackstock had accomplished. Fast forward to November 2017. That is when the Partnership for Water Sustainability held the Blue Ecology Workshop to begin the process of mainstreaming Michael Blackstock’s work into the local government setting.

THE BLUE ECOLOGY WORKSHOP TEAM: Member of Parliament Fin Donnelly, Partnership President Ted van der Gulik, CBC science commentator Bob McDonald, Michael Blackstock and Partnership Executive Director Kim Stephens.

Interweaving Explained

“Interweaving is about creating a new form of knowledge through collaboration by interweaving useful threads from each way of knowing into a more robust way,” states Michael Blackstock.

“Interweaving is not integration, just as equality is not about assimilation and creativity is not empirical. Interweaving is collaborative and incremental rather than a revolutionary process. Collaborators identify packets of knowledge that would benefit from the interweaving process.”

“Blue Ecology is an ecological philosophy, which emerged from interweaving First Nations and Western thought. It is meant to be a companion because it augments existing Western science hydrology rather than displacing this knowledge.”

An Introduction to Water Reconciliation

“There is a humility component to reconciliation and that can be hard for both sides when we are building a bridge to connect each other. My question for the Western science world is this: Are you prepared and willing to change your definition of water in science? And if you are, what would the change in definition look like?”

Water Reconciliation Calls for an Attitude Change: 

“This is what reconciliation really gets down to when we are talking about interweaving Indigenous knowledge and Western science. No longer is it ceremonial.  Is Western science prepared, for example, to add the moon to the hydrologic cycle? From the Indigenous perspective, we believe it should be there! Why is it not there when the moon affects the movement of water every day?”

“We have yet to do the hardest work of reconciliation. The methodology for Blue Ecology is about the actual work of interweaving the strengths of two cultures to reconcile them. It is time for First Nations to take a seat at environmental policy tables, as respected knowledge keepers who understand and respect water.  Indigenous teachings can improve Western science.”

“In British Columbia we can become a water leader together by embracing Blue Ecology. It does not mean we have to give up Western science. Rather, it is fixing a flaw to make it even better by using the expertise that Indigenous people have in their science.”

Blue Ecology has five guiding principles and aligns with the whole-system, water balance approach that the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia champions. Adoption of the principles – Spirit, Harmony, Respect, Unity and Balance – would move Blue Ecology from theory to practice, as an aid for water managers

 

About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

The Partnership’s guiding philosophy is to help others be successful. When our partners and collaborators are successful, we are successful. The Partnership is led by a team of community-minded and mission-focused elders. Although many on the team are retired from their jobs, they continue their water-centric mission as volunteers.

Conceptual Framework for Inter-Generational Collaboration

Technical knowledge alone is not enough to resolve water challenges facing BC. Making things happen in the real world requires an appreciation and understanding of human behaviour, combined with a knowledge of how decisions are made. It takes a career to figure this out.

The Partnership leadership team brings experience, knowledge, and wisdom – a forceful combination to help collaborators reach their vision, mission, and goals for achieving water sustainability.

The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. However, inter-generational collaboration is a two-way street. Minds must be open and receptive to accepting the inter-generational baton and embracing the wisdom that goes with it. When that happens, decisions will benefit from and build upon past experience.

Application of Experience, Knowledge and Wisdom

The umbrella for Partnership initiatives and programs is the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. In turn, the Action Plan is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Released in 2008, Living Water Smart was the provincial government’s call to action, and to this day transcends governments.

Incorporation of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia as a not-for-profit society on November 19, 2010 was a milestone moment. Incorporation signified a bold leap forward. Two decades earlier, a group of like-minded and passionate individuals, including representatives of three levels of government, came together as a technical committee. Over time, this “water roundtable” evolved into The Partnership.

TO LEARN MORE, VISIT: https://waterbucket.ca/about-us/

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