Water Reconciliation and Blue Ecology Virtual Seminar: Creating a Climate for Change


“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.

The edition of Waterbucket eNews published on October 12, 2021 featured the work of Michael Blackstock, Independent Indigenous Scholar and founder of the Blue Ecology Institute, and previewed the Blue Ecology Virtual Seminar. Michael Blackstock is the lead presenter on a 4-person panel. Blue Ecology, the interweaving of Indigenous and Western water stewardship knowledge is the over-arching theme for the event. The focus is on watershed education initiatives. It will be an evening event.

Blue Ecology Virtual Seminar on November 18, 2021 – Creating a Climate for Change

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.

Designed as a panel session, the 2021 bridging seminar has three objectives.

First, it will serve as the event of record for launching Michael Blackstock’s Blue Ecology Institute. The initiative is guided by a vision to build a bridge between two cultures through a water-first approach.

Secondly, the seminar will introduce Blue Ecology the idea as a way of interweaving Indigenous and Western perspectives to achieve a vision for “water reconciliation” in British Columbia. Michael Blackstock, Independent Indigenous Scholar, will prime seminar participants for their future attendance at Watershed Moments 2022: A Symposium on Blue Ecology and Water Reconciliation. Looking ahead, the symposium will showcase and celebrate “Blue Ecology in action” in the Cowichan region.

Thirdly, the 2021 seminar will showcase watershed education initiatives for school children within three Vancouver Island regional districts.

The four initiatives have a unifying thread – each addresses the “Nature-Deficit Disorder”, a term which is now widely recognized and understood. Nature-Deficit Disorder is the idea that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, and the belief that this change results in a wide range of behavioural problems. For this reason, a goal of watershed education initiatives for schools is to reconnect children with nature.

To Register:

Visit https://www.civicinfo.bc.ca/event/2021/Blue-Ecology-Seminar


EDITOR’S PERSPECTIVE on 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. 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,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”


Interweaving Western Science & Indigenous Knowledge

Blue Ecology has been a two-decade long journey of discovery for Michael Blackstock, highlighted by his appointment to a UNESCO Expert Panel for a 4-year term in 2008. His work on the Expert Panel resulted in an invitation to share his Blue Ecology message at an international symposium held in October 2008 by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS).

This international exposure, and Michael’s inspirational impact on this gathering of senior scientists, was a watershed moment in his life. He established his credibility with the hydrology community, and this led directly to his peer-reviewed paper, published in February 2009 by the IAHS. In 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. In the decade-plus since, he has written and/or contributed to series of books that further explore and build on this theme.

Mainstreaming Blue Ecology within British Columbia

While international recognition gave Blue Ecology early credibility and profile, there was limited awareness within British Columbia of what Michael Blackstock had accomplished on the global stage. 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 and ecological philosophical into the local government setting.

The 2017 workshop marks the start of the next leg of Michael’s journey, now in collaboration with the Partnership and NALT. This brought Michael into the orbit of the Watershed Moments team, a grass-roots initiative that has members from 10 organizations. The team draws on the knowledge and expertise of individuals with experience related to First Nations (Indigenous), the land and stream stewardship sector, and four layers of government – federal, provincial, regional district and municipal.

In 2021, the Watershed Moments team embraced the Blue Ecology idea, and committed to the vision for Water Reconciliation as an outcome. In essence, Water Reconciliation means 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.

Just last week, for example, BC Hydro’s Power Smart for School program went live with a Blue Ecology module for Grade 11 students. This will help them learn how they might better care for water.

Watershed Education Initiatives: A Panel Conversation

In the 4th annual event in the Watershed Moments Series, Michael Blackstock is the lead member of a 4-person panel that will share their experiences in trail-blazing watershed education for youth. He is joined by Linda Brooymans, Steph Cottell and Christina (Tina) Willard-Stepan. Blue Ecology, the interweaving of Indigenous and Western water stewardship knowledge is the over-arching theme for the event.

The District of North Vancouver’s Richard Boase returns as Moderator. He has an innate ability to ask the questions that get to the heart of the matter, shares his enthusiasm with panelists and audience alike.

Grass-Roots Initiatives: “An interesting dimension shared by all four initiatives is that the educational content is coming from outside the public school system. Environmental not-for-profit groups and regional districts are bringing water stewardship lessons to the classroom, connecting schools to their watersheds. In the Nanaimo and Cowichan regions, stewardship groups are providing nature-based programs for elementary and high schools, respectively. In the Comox Valley, it is the regional local government that is leading the watershed education initiative,” explained Paul Chapman, Chair, Watershed Moments Series.

“How do these initiatives fit within the Blue Ecology framework? Join the conversation on November 18th. And scroll down to learn more about the panel team.”

About the Watershed Moments Series

The Watershed Moments Series is a building blocks process. Each event builds on the last and points the way to the next. To date, the symposium format has provided a neutral forum for local elected representatives, local government staff, stewardship groups and others to ‘convene for action’ with the objective of growing the restorative footprint 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.



“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 meant to be a companion because it augments existing Western science hydrology rather than displacing this knowledge,” states Michael Blackstock.

“There is a humility component to Water 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?”

“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?”

Michael Blackstock’s Climate Change Thermostat image draws attention to the flaws in a “slice-and-dice” approach to science that does not account for two things: the interaction of variables within a system; and “preciseness versus accuracy” in the calculations. 

Connect the Dots: Three Big Ideas are Gems

Michael Blackstock is an original thinker. When he explained Blue Ecology at the founding event workshop, he caught the attention of the group with three big ideas that Kim Stephens described as gems.

His sketch of a Climate Change Thermostat is brilliant. It speaks to arrogance in combination with naivety. Does anyone really believe that technology can regulate global temperature to one decimal place? It took Michael the artist to capture the absurdity in a cartoon. What did we learn in math about significant figures? We learned that there is a fundamental difference between preciseness and accuracy. One decimal place? As Michael said at the workshop, really!

Michael also talked about the Periodic Table of Elements which many of us learned about in high school chemistry classes. Michael’s observation is that we stumble from one “periodic table crisis” to the next. Why is this an important observation? This leads us to Michael’s third gem which is the Heat Balance. Carbon accounts for 4% compared to 95% for water. Although this has been known for decades, Michael pointed out, this big picture perspective is not front and centre in climate change deliberations.

In summary, what Michael’s three gems tell us is that missing from the discussion is an understanding of how a system functions as a whole.

To Learn More:

Curious about the work of Michael Blackstock? Visit the Water-Centric Planning community-of-interest. Click on this link: https://waterbucket.ca/wcp/category/blue-ecology-michael-blackstock/


More Michael Blackstock Quotable Quotes

PERIODIC TABLE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES: “I have been thinking about the idea of periodic table environmental crises for a long time. The workshop in September 2021 was the first time I have talked about it. My source of inspiration is Roman history, notably the theory that Roman society collapsed because of lead poisoning. I view that as an early example of a periodic table environmental crisis. In recent memory, there was the leaded gasoline concern in the 1960s and 1970s that resulted in unleaded gas. There is also the DDT crisis to consider. And remember when ozone was the big threat. And of course, the threat of nuclear war was in a sense about uranium. It seems like we are in this cycle where there is always some element on the periodic table that is throwing us into crisis. And the assumption is that technology will rescue us. Currently the periodic table crisis is carbon,” explained Michael Blackstock.

HEAT BALANCE: “When you examine what comprises the heat balance, carbon is definitely a factor. But people do not understand the linkage between water and the heat balance. The discussion has been going on for decades. But nobody is paying attention. The general public thinks if we get rid of carbon, then we are all good. But that is only a partial solution. Water is fundamental to a whole-system solution.”

CLIMATE CHANGE THERMOSTAT: “Every year I listen to the climate change debates. The scientists are always talking about temperature rise to one decimal place. An image of a committee with their hands on a thermostat popped into my mind. And they are trying to adjust it. There is so much arrogance in that, and so much naivety at the same time, to believe that we actually have the ability as a global human society to turn this dial plus or minus 0.1 degrees. The reality is that we do not have that ability. As a result, we are giving the public this false sense that we have a level of control that we do not have. That is why I did the artistic image – to get that idea across to audiences, concluded Michael Blackstock.”


Creating a Climate for Change / Watershed Education Initiatives: Introduction to Panel Members

About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

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. The Partnership evolved from a technical committee in the 1990s, to a “water roundtable” in the first decade of the 2000s, and then to a legal entity. The Partnership has its roots in government – local, provincial, federal.

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.

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 has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. To achieve the goal, the Partnership is growing a network in the local government setting. This network embraces collaborative leadership and inter-generational collaboration.

Application of Experience, Knowledge and Wisdom

The Partnership believes that when each generation is receptive to accepting the inter-generational baton and embracing the wisdom that goes with it, the decisions of successive generations will benefit from and build upon the experience of those who went before them.

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. When they are successful, the Partnership is successful.

The Time Continuum graphic (above) conceptualizes the way of thinking that underpins the inter-generational mission of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.  Influence choices. Capitalize on the REACHABLE and TEACHABLE MOMENTS to influence choices.


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