ORAL HISTORY EXTENDS THE PERIOD OF RECORD AND UNDERSTANDING: “Michael Blackstock observed that the individuals most receptive to Blue Ecology were the ‘hydrology elders’ when he presented at the International Association of Hydrological Sciences Conference. I am not surprised. hydrology elders understand the limitations and assumptions inherent in how scientific knowledge is applied. They are not dazzled by a slick software interface,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability (February 2022)
Note to Reader:
The edition of Waterbucket eNews published on February 8, 2022 featured a story of a 3-way conversation about Blue Ecology, a “water-first” approach to interweaving Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science. The participants were Michael Blackstock, Independent Indigenous Scholar, BC provincial government hydrologist Neil Goeller, and Kim Stephens of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.
The story about the “moments of insight” resulting from their conversation is available as a downloadable document titled Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Oral history extends the period of record and our understanding of what the data mean.
Oral history extends the period of record and our understanding of what the data mean
“My leap of faith is that interweaving Indigenous knowledge and Western science makes sense and is the right thing to do. That is why I embrace the Blue Ecology work of Michael Blackstock. He is making a difference,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director.
“But what about those who are challenged when it comes to being intuitive and opening their minds to other ways of knowing? The question that I have been wrestling with is, how might we explain interweaving in a way that would make sense to the engineering mind-set?”
“A three-way conversation with Michael Blackstock and Neil Goeller resulted in an Aha Moment. Like Neil, my master’s degree and career experience encompasses hydrology and its applications in water resource engineering. When Neil mentioned Bayesian analysis, and suggested an analogy with Indigenous oral history, it resonated. Bingo, I exclaimed, Neil, you have nailed it.”
Where Data are Sparse and All Available Information Must be Used
“My mind flashed back 40 years. UBC Professor Emeritus Denis Russell, one of my mentors, developed a methodology based on the Bayesian Theorem to estimate peak floods in situations where data are sparse and all available information must be used. Thomas Bayes lived three hundred years ago. He is the mathematician who invented probability analysis. If he was alive today, I have no doubt that Bayes would say, Oral history extends the period of period.”
“Bayesian statistics offers a framework for combining different kinds of information and making best use of what is available. Four decades ago, I applied the UBC Peak Flood Estimation Program to North Vancouver’s creek systems. The municipality brought public works staff back from retirement so that I could interview them in the field and compile the oral history of strategic culvert installations. The oral history ‘data inputs’ made it possible to generate flood frequency curves with reasonable confidence.”
“Michael observed that the individuals most receptive to Blue Ecology were the ‘hydrology elders’ when he presented at the International Association of Hydrological Sciences Conference. I am not surprised, I said to Michael, hydrology elders understand the limitations and assumptions inherent in how scientific knowledge is applied. They are not dazzled by a slick software interface. Getting data and making sense of it, whether recorded or oral, that is a key message.”
TO LEARN MORE:
To read the complete story published on February 8th 2022, download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Oral history extends the period of record and our understanding of what the data mean.
FLASHBACK TO 2009: Michael Blackstock’s work on Blue Ecology recognized by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences
Michael Blackstock’s work is recognized by both UNESCO and the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS). In his 2009 peer-reviewed paper titled Blue Ecology and climate change: interweaving cultural perspectives on water, an indigenous case study, Michael laid out the case for an attitude change and culture-shift related to water.
Blue Ecology has been a two-decade long journey of discovery for Michael Blackstock. The Blue Ecology Seminar in January 2022 marks the start of the next leg of Michael’s journey, now in collaboration with the Watershed Moments team.
Blue Ecology and climate change: interweaving cultural perspectives on water, an indigenous case study
“In 2008, I was appointed to a UNESCO Expert Panel for a 4-year term. That led to my participation as a speaker at a conference organized that same year by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences,” recalls Michael Blackstock. He is an independent scholar, professional forester and chartered mediator of European and Gitxsan descent
“Held in Capri, in October, the conference introduced Blue Ecology into mainstream science and resulted in fast-track inclusion of my paper in a peer-reviewed publication.”
“Looking back, this audience of scientists has been the most receptive to my concept for interweaving Western science and the First Nations spiritual perspective. They got it.”
Healthy Water, Healthy Body, Healthy Ecosystem
In the introduction to his 2009 paper, Michael Blackstock set the scene for looking at climate change and water differently when he stated that: “I propose we re-examine climate change from a new angle: how would the indigenous perspectives on water inform what is happening to the world’s water in the context of climate change?”
He posed this question: “If we do not fully understand climate change, do we have time, given the increasing rate of change, to adapt our thinking?”
He then observed that “the relatively recent and growing human disrespect for water has lead to our disharmonious earthly existence.”
He followed with this key message: “Indigenous Elders emphasize the importance of teaching our youth to know and respect water’s central spiritual and functional role in our lives. Also, they offer Western science a focusing opportunity: think of how we treat the water first, since healthy water means a healthy body and ecosystem.”
TO LEARN MORE:
Download Blue Ecology and climate change: interweaving cultural perspectives on water, an indigenous case study, published in 2009.
FAST FORWARD TO 2022: Getting Data and Making Sense of It
Neil Goeller is an original member of the Watershed Moments team, a grass-roots initiative that draws its strength from 11 organizations, including six local governments. The Watershed Moments mission is to advance mainstreaming of Blue Ecology. Neil is an experienced hydrologist with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. He is passionate about advancing a science-based approach for the greater good. He is also one of a small cohort that is trained in field data collection and hydrologic analysis, and what happens in and to the stream. As Neil says, “this means getting data and making sense of it”.
The Observation Record is in the Oral History
“In North America, from a scientific point of view, water records are quite short. We are lucky when we have 60 years of reliable records, possibly extending out to 100-plus years. Consider that our oldest hydrometric gauge in BC is only in the order of 110 to 120 years,” states Neil Goeller.
“The peak period for collection of streamflow and climate data was the era from the 1960s through 1980s. However, a majority of gauges in BC are discontinuous. This raises questions. How carefully was the information collected at any point in time? Can we really claim that our measurements from 1914, for example, are more reliable than somebody’s family memory of the occurrences?”
“When I reflect on this short-term context for hydrometric data collection in BC, there is no doubt in my mind that Indigenous knowledge would expand our horizon and help us make sense of the numbers in a larger context.”
Need for land and water restoration aligns with Blue Ecology principle of establishing “healing zones”
“Our timeframe for largescale settlement is only the past one and a half centuries. Again, the context is short-term. Yet the cumulative impacts and consequences of our actions on the land and the water cycle have been far-reaching during this period.”
“Restoration efforts will likely require us to pay back into systems, with significant interest, what has been taken out of them through land use change. The idea being that to begin to restore functionality in a system requires us to put back the value of our withdrawal from nature (or natural assets) plus significant interest.”
“The road we must travel in holding the hand of Mother Earth to help more than hinder requires careful planning, foresight, and patience. Traditional Indigenous knowledge provides this perspective and, to me, embodies those qualities required for longer term thinking and planning,” concludes Neil Goeller.
Michael Blackstock observes that, “Neil’s reflections on investing in restoration speak to the Blue Ecology principle of establishing ‘healing zones;. Let the ecosystem heal, after we ask from it. It is a way of giving back and saying thanks for its gift.”
TO LEARN MORE:
To read about more “moments of insight” by Neil Goeller as recounted in the story published on February 8th 2022, download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Oral history extends the period of record and our understanding of what the data mean.