“They’ve been around for hundreds of years,” said Maw, a University of Saskatchewan College of Engineering professor. “What does that tell you about them as designs? That they’re good — and they’re indigenous designs; they came from Canada’s indigenous peoples.”
A new U of S program aims to spread the word about indigenous ingenuity — from watercraft to weapons to traps to living quarters to snowshoes — to public schools across the country and inspire indigenous youth to consider engineering as a career.
Everyone involved in the project is excited; nobody has done this work systematically before, and it’s an opportunity to document a neglected part of Canada’s history, Maw said.
“We are under-represented in the college and in the profession,” Indigenous Peoples Initiatives co-ordinator Matt Dunn said.
“There’s so much value to having a diverse workforce and the diverse thinking, the diverse processes that First Nations, Metis and Inuit engineers … can provide will really help enrich the engineering profession.”
Traditional indigenous design was different than modern techniques, which focus on analyzing and solving specific problems, Maw said.
“It was more deeply embedded in culture, and it was a more gradual process over decades — and I would say not coincidentally, you ended up with better designs of things like canoes. And they were very sustainable designs. I mean they were not wasteful, they were very resource efficient, they were very functional.
“I think there’s lots of positive lessons to be learned there and I think if this brings pride to indigenous kids who are learning about it, I think that would be fantastic … And if it brings respect to Canada’s first peoples, I think that would be a great thing, too.”