BLUE ECOLOGY: A Pathway to Water Reconciliation and Resilience at the Local Scale in British Columbia


Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. Storylines accommodate a range of reader attention spans. Read the headline and move on, or take the time to delve deeper – it is your choice!  Downloadable versions are available at Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series.

The edition published on January 24, 2023 previewed the Blue Ecology bridging seminar and primed readers for a panel discussion about interweaving of Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. The seminar goal is to raise the level of awareness of what “water reconciliation” means in practice.



Blue Ecology 101 for local politicians

We have landed at the crux of two of the most important issues facing Canadians – relationships with First Nations and relationships with water – in an era when we must also adapt to a changing climate. Communities have a once in a generation opportunity to get our relationships with both right, and then start back down the river of time – this time together.

Watershed Moments 2023 is designed to inform local government elected representatives about BLUE ECOLOGY, a pathway to “water reconciliation”. Blue Ecology is a water-first approach to interweaving Indigenous and Western perspectives. Oral history, land and water stewardship, and inter-generational baton.  These are foundational pieces for water reconciliation.

During the evening of February 23rd — from 7PM until 9PM — the team of Michael Blackstock, Brian Carruthers and Richard Boase will seed the idea that hope lies within the sphere of local government, whether that be non-Indigenous or Indigenous That is the scale where actions do matter.

In an interactive online broadcast via YouTube, Richard will moderate a free-flowing conversation between Michael and Brian. The goal is that this dynamic trio will light a spark with their enthusiasm and leave the audience with hope. Because the seminar is on YouTube, this results in viewing flexibility plus the ability to watch the seminar again and again.

About the members of the Blue Ecology Panel

Michael Blackstock is an independent Indigenous scholar, past member of a UNESCO Expert Panel, and creator of the Blue Ecology methodology. His work is the inspiration for the Blue Ecology Institute.

Brian Carruthers is a respected, long time chief administrative officer in local government. He was an architect of, and staff champion for the Cowichan Region’s Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Program.

Richard Boase is the moderator for the Watershed Moments Series. In addition to his local government career as an environmental champion, he is a founding Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.

For more details, including how to register, click on this link:


“Are you wondering what local government councillors and directors will learn by attending the Blue Ecology seminar on February 23rd? And are you curious as to how this learning might inform local decision processes for interweaving Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives?” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.

“Commencing in 2018, the Watershed Moments Symposia Series has featured the water stewardship experience of different regional districts on Vancouver Island. Next up is the Cowichan region where the interests of Cowichan Tribes and other First Nations are front and centre when it comes to water resource management.”

“However, it is taking us time to build trust and relationships to the point of being able to showcase Blue Ecology in action in the Cowichan region. In the interim, we are organizing what we call “bridging seminars”. A year go, the Blue Ecology Seminar was about not-for-profit conservation groups and how their water stewardship outreach in the Cowichan, Nanaimo and Comox Valley regional districts connects to Blue Ecology.”

“This year we are looking at the interweaving of Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives in the Cowichan region, the smooth and not so smooth, through the experience of Brian Carruthers in leading the Cowichan Valley Regional District Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Program.”

Blue Ecology will help remove some of the fear on the part of local government

“Paul Chapman, Chair of the Watershed Moments Series, provides this context: “We essentially envision this as Blue Ecology 101 for recently elected municipal and regional politicians. But the audience will be broader than that. It will appeal to water management professionals and the conservation community that I come from, and other groups as well.”

“But really,” he emphasizes, “the important piece will be introducing those recently elected officials to Blue Ecology so that they can ponder what that might look like in their regions. Our hope at the end of this seminar is that we light a spark in our audience and give them some tools to move forward together. That would be success.”

“Paul and I envision the seminar as a free-flowing conversation, with Richard Boase steering the process as our moderator extraordinaire. This will allow the chemistry between Brian Carruthers and Michael Blackstock to take its natural course. Brian and Michael have direct experience in interweaving two cultures. This makes the seminar relevant and timely.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Blue Ecology, a Pathway to Water Reconciliation and Resilience

The Cowichan Valley Regional Board, acting on behalf of the Partnership for Water Sustainability and the Watershed Moments team, has initiated a conversation with First Nations in the region. The purpose is to explore how the Blue Ecology framework applies in their territories and whether there is potential for Blue Ecology to achieve water reconciliation through interweaving of Indigenous knowledge and Western science.

More than a decade ago, international recognition gave Blue Ecology early credibility and profile. However, there was limited awareness within BC of what Michael Blackstock had accomplished on the global stage. Fast forward to November 2017. That is when the Partnership held the Blue Ecology Workshop in Metro Vancouver to begin the process of mainstreaming Michael Blackstock’s work and ecological philosophy into the local government setting.

Below, reflections by Michael Blackstock and Brian Carruthers that we captured during a recent “proof of concept” conversation foreshadow the chemistry and candour that the audience can expect from a free-flowing conversation on February 23rd.

Interweaving is about creating a new form of knowledge

“The research question is, what is water? I am looking at it from both the Indigenous and Western perspectives,” states Michael Blackstock

“My journey started at a theoretical level, but as the concept of Blue Ecology emerged from my research, then I wanted it to be implementable. Like, how do you use this in reality?”

“My philosophy is that only collaboration will get us through the real tough problems. We need everybody at the table to harness all the energy and the diverse thinking to be able to solve complex problems such as climate change.”

Hope lies with local government and local knowledge: 

“I have been reflecting on the recent UN climate change conference in Egypt. It seems that the wind is coming out of the sails. It seems like climate adaptation is too big a hill for nation level governments to climb and solve.”

“My hope lies in local government because local people understand their local area. And at the local scale, we are able to self-organize better on specific execution of executable tasks.”

“I have lived in many communities throughout BC and have learned that those towns each have their own culture. So, local knowledge is important, whether it is Indigenous or non-Indigenous. Local knowledge is really key.”

“With the Blue Ecology bridging seminar, my hope lies in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities working together, with a foundation that was designed to be jointly respectful of each other’s way of thinking, rather than trying to adapt one to the other. It is a joint foundation. Then build the house based on local knowledge.”

“When non-Indigenous people do not engage or they back away, I have observed that it is usually due to FEAR. They are not used to working with Indigenous people; they are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. So, the easy thing to do is pull back and not do it.”

“What Blue Ecology offers is a foundation that has Indigenous buy-in and non-Indigenous buy-in that will remove some of the fear so they can move towards the hope spectrum. We can collaborate so that there is not that fear,” concludes Michael Blackstock

It always comes down to people, how they get along, and who will lead

“When I think about the experience in the Cowichan, in many ways the region is still in the theoretical stage in terms of weaving Indigenous knowledge and Western science,” continues Brian Carruthers.

“We created the framework for that to happen, but I cannot say that it truly has happened. The foundation for interweaving in the Cowichan region is really with the Cowichan Tribes. Everything the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) has done has been shoulder to shoulder with them.”

“I was the CVRD’s Chief Administrative Officer for 8 years and it took a long time to get where we got to with the successful 2018 referendum and afterwards. The framework is in place and the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection service exists. But I do wish the Cowichan region was further along. However, a reality is that things do take time.”

“Now that I am retired, I like the opportunity the Blue Ecology Seminar provides to be able to speak freely and candidly around my observations. CVRD has a new Board. It is an opportunity for them.”

“CVRD is my frame of reference. That is my experience. I like the idea of igniting that fire again and sparking interest in taking up the charge again and moving it forward. That would be very valuable.”

“I was increasingly concerned as I was leaving the Cowichan that, in contrast to when I first started, the political will seemed to have waned. When I started, my Board was 100% behind anything water. In 2018, I saw a shift away from that wholehearted universal support due to, I believe, a lack of understanding.”

There is a window of opportunity for a new Board to rekindle the energy: 

“The question was, and still is, how do we rekindle that energy and fire in the belly? How do we rekindle that support for this important work amongst our elected officials? How do we bring the Cowichan Tribes, Cowichan Watershed Board and CVRD, as well as the other groups back together again? You need to have that political will to say, this is important.”

“My experience with elected representatives is that it always comes down to the people and how they get along. And how they act, and how they lead. Staff can only carry things so far. Only when someone who is elected takes the lead, and is the champion, does something happen.”

“CVRD has had chairs who were strong advocates for water, and strong advocates for Indigenous relations. And this resulted in genuine co-leadership with Cowichan Tribes at the Cowichan Watershed Board table. With a new Board, I believe there is a real opportunity to strike early and bring CVRD and Cowichan Tribes together to re-start the water conversation,” concludes Brian Carruthers.

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About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

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.