INTERWEAVING CONTEXT FOR WATERSHED MOMENTS 2021 / BLUE ECOLOGY VIRTUAL SEMINAR: “What First Nations in British Columbia bring to the water conversation is a whole-system perspective. It is that fundamental,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability, when he explained what interweaving of Indigenous knowledge and Western science would mean in practice (October 2021)

Note to Reader:

Beginning in 2018, the Partnership for Water Sustainability and the Nanaimo & Area Land Trust (NALT) have co-produced Watershed Moments, the Vancouver Island Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate Annual Symposia Series. In November, the Partnership and NALT are hosting Watershed Moments 2021 / Blue Ecology Virtual Seminar as a bridging event. The next full-scale symposium will be in 2022.

Interweaving Western Science & Indigenous Knowledge

“In late September 2021, I participated in a workshop which was the founding event for the Blue Ecology Institute. Michael Blackstock shared a story about his journey to gain acceptance in the academic setting for his Blue Ecology  approach to interweaving Indigenous knowledge and Western science,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“One group readily embraced interweaving, he noted. Much to his surprise, he added, this group was the International Association of Hydrological Sciences. Michael emphasized that it was the ‘hydrology elders’ who recognized the value of Blue Ecology.

Why  Hydrology Elders Get It

“Michael’s revelation did not surprise me. Speaking from experience, it is a powerful endorsement when you are breaking new ground and a respected hydrology elder says, “you are on the right track”. Elders bring context and history to a conversation.”

“In the case of Water Reconciliation through interweaving, hydrology elders understand the limitations and assumptions inherent in how scientific knowledge is applied to water systems planning and operation. They are not dazzled by a slick software interface. They know what is going on under the hood of the calculation engine used for hydrologic analysis.”

Seminal research by Rich Horner and Chris May, published in 1996, correlated land use changes with impacts on stream condition. They also ranked the four limiting factors that provide a road map for science-based action. Their findings are embedded in Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia


What Applied Scientists have Forgotten

“Michael’s story was an Ah-ha Moment for me. It got me thinking about how to explain in simple terms what interweaving of Western science and Indigenous knowledge looks like in practice. This is what I concluded: What First Nations in British Columbia bring to the water conversation is a whole-system perspective. It is that fundamental.”

“This is what water practitioners have forgotten. It explains why in 2008 the international group of hydrology elders embraced Blue Ecology. The whole-system philosophy embedded in Blue Ecology contrasts with our contemporary Western approach which is to slice-and-dice.”

“To paraphrase Michael Blackstock, we find ourselves at a moment in time when an attitude change is urgently needed to open minds as to why the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. This means water practitioners must come to terms with what the phrase interaction of variables within a system means in practice, recognizing that human behaviour is also a variable in the mix.”

“All too often, we manipulate a single variable out of context with the whole and its many additional variables. Slicing and dicing does not capture the interconnectedness of nature, and behaviour. In the process, we lose sight of the system, and the outcome is unintended consequences.”

Whole-System Practice is the Exception

“By training and career, I am an applied scientist (aka engineer). In the 1970s, the whole-system approach was a core element of my engineering education. This paradigm-shift reflected an emerging awareness of the unintended consequences of land and water servicing practices.”

“In recent decades, however, I believe my profession has only paid lip service to whole-system thinking. In water systems planning and operation, my observation is that whole-system practice is the exception, not the rule. Indigenous peoples remind us that everything is connected. And that is why interweaving our two ways of knowing is foundational to Water Reconciliation,” concluded Kim Stephens.


Click on the image below and download a copy of the Program Brochure for the Blue Ecology Virtual Seminar.