APEGS ANNUAL MEETING PLENARY SESSION
Inclusion in the Professions
Engineering has an image problem. It is a profession viewed as the preserve of white males. In Saskatchewan as elsewhere, both visible majorities (i.e. women) and visible minorities seem reluctant to enter the profession. What can APEGS and its members do to foster a greater atmosphere of inclusion? That was the theme of the 2019 Plenary Session of the APEGS Annual Meeting, which welcomed keynote speaker Deanna Burgart, P.Eng. Burgart ticks many boxes – a female Indigenous engineer with a physical disability – which has led her to become an advocate for inclusion in the workplace.
s Burgart described, a culture of inclusion is one where every individual feels empowered to be authentic, be heard, to contribute and feel valued regardless of the differences they bring to the discussion. “Cultivating this requires acknowledgement of our own lenses, unconscious biases and the willingness to see things from other perspectives,” Burgart said.
The process of cultivating inclusion is a more daunting one than it may seem, Burgart noted, since diversity is like an iceberg. At the tip are the easily identifiable differences like skin colour, gender, visible disability, language, age and body type. But beyond that lie many more subtle differences such as behavioural type, culture, economic background, gender identity and cognitive abilities, to name a few.
While all of these factors deserve attention, Burgart’s focus is on the concept she calls “Indigneering”, which she defines as “combining Western scientific principles with Indigenous perspectives of interconnectedness and respect for Mother Earth.”
The beginning of the journey towards Indigenous inclusion starts with an understanding of the distinct groups covered by the umbrella term Indigenous, which includes First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
The first and last are relatively easy to define. First Nations describes full members of one of the various nations of North America’s original pre-contact inhabitants. Inuit describes the same concept for the peoples of the far north.
Métis has a more subtle and still contentious definition. The original French term merely meant “mixed race” but over time the various sorts of mixed-race communities developed unique cultures. Canadian courts have recognized that members of these cultures are entitled to many of the same rights as First Nations. The key, though, is cultural attachment, not genetic. Simply coming from mixed-race parentage or having some First Nations heritage does not make a person Métis under Canadian law. To secure traditional Métis rights, the person must establish a connection to a long-standing cultural community and be recognized by that community.
Guidelines for Indigenous Relations
It is vital for engineers and the companies they work for to understand that each of these Indigenous groups is distinct and, further, that within each group there are many nations or sub-groups. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to Indigenous relations.
There are some guidelines, however. First, there is the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that governments and companies have a duty to consult Indigenous groups on matters that affect their lands or their rights. Second, there is the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Canada is a signatory, which asserts amongst other things that Indigenous people have the right to their culture, language and traditional territory and have the right to self-determination and autonomy in matters related to their internal affairs.
But the most significant guidelines in Canada are the articles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Section 92 of that report deals specifically with the role of business in approaching reconciliation and bears study by Canadian engineering firms, Burgart said. In summary, this section’s calls-to-action:
- Engaging in meaningful consultation in advance of economic development projects.
- Providing Indigenous communities with equitable access to jobs, training and long-term community benefits from economic development projects.
- Educating the company’s management and staff about the history of Indigenous peoples as well as providing skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.
Benefits of Indigneering
By including Indigenous people in decision-making, businesses gain a better understanding of what Burgart called the “quadruple bottom line” of sustainability. Instead of focusing solely on profits, businesses should focus on benefits to people, the planet and prosperity under an overarching respect for culture. To this end, Burgart noted the many ways in which Indigenous communities fail to participate in the prosperity delivered by economic development projects. In northern communities where many resource projects are located, grocery prices are astronomically high. Over half of the Canadian communities not on the electrical grid are Indigenous. Dozens of First Nations lack clean drinking water.
Indigenous communities also suffer from poorly funded, lower quality education systems, seasonal or otherwise undependable transportation access and systemic racism as reflected in examples such as the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis. Burgart called on businesses to show leadership in helping Indigenous people overcome these systemic disadvantages.
The benefits of building these relationships would flow in both directions as businesses would benefit from Indigenous world perspectives. The principles of this perspective include:
- Stewardship of the land;
- Time is circular and relationships are long term;
- Humans are not at the centre;
- Reciprocity and offering;
- Shared wealth and gift-giving.
These perspectives will lead businesses to new positive approaches. Instead of operating in silos, companies can learn to operate through interconnectedness. Instead of being focused on quarterly profits, businesses can benefit from the extreme long-term “seven generations into the future” approach. They can learn to appreciate cumulative effects on land and water and approach business with a spirit of reciprocity rather than an attitude of exploitation.
Through goodwill and concerted effort at reconciliation, everyone will benefit, Burgart asserted.BACK TO TOP