Stream Source

In recent years, there’s been growing recognition of the need to indigenize the field of engineering, both in academic settings and professional practices. As an Indigenous-owned payroll, recruitment and contractor management firm, we recognize the significant barriers faced by Indigenous individuals aspiring to pursue careers in engineering. Through our partnership with Agilus and our dedication to fostering diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging, we are committed to contributing to ongoing efforts aimed at addressing these challenges and advocating for greater opportunities for Indigenous peoples in the engineering sector.

National Engineering Month provides a fitting backdrop to explore the intersection of Indigenous engagement and the engineering profession. This year’s theme is, “There’s a place for you in engineering,” which celebrates diversity of thought, opportunities, and people within the engineering profession. We invite you to join us on a journey to understand and embrace the principles of indigenization in both business and engineering.

Understanding Indigenization

At the heart of indigenization lies a fundamental shift in perspective. According to Queen’s University, “Indigenization can be seen as the re-doing or reaffirming of education to include Indigenous ways of knowing, thinking, feeling and being. It involves elevating the voices of Indigenous peoples, elevating traditional and cultural knowledge, and intentional inclusion of Indigenous ways of teaching and learning to form and create [educational/teaching] approaches.”

Indigenization in the workforce can manifest in many various forms. “Indigenization does not mean changing something Western into something Indigenous,” explains the authors of Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers. “Rather, indigenization can be understood as a weaving or braiding together… it refers to a deliberate coming together of these two ways of knowing.” This approach emphasizes the elevation of Indigenous voices and the intentional inclusion of traditional and cultural knowledge in educational and workplace settings.

Learning from History

Throughout history, Indigenous knowledge and wisdom has had a profound influence in our world. Engineering presents many opportunities for Indigenous peoples to enrich projects with their unique perspectives, traditional wisdom and sustainable practices.

Last year, Engineers Canada in partnership with Urban Systems published a Guideline on Indigenous Consultation and Engagement and shared a related blog with additional stories to help illuminate the development of the guide. Urban Systems shared with Engineers Canada an example from a creek rehabilitation project where an elder’s knowledge of their community was instrumental in shaping the project. The elder had frequently visited the same cultural bathing areas over decades and had witnessed firsthand the water levels become shallower with the continued deposit of sediment from upstream developments and roadways. “He knows the creeks very well,” explained Mackenzie Walker, Urban Systems’ Project Leader. “Over a time and scale that we could never collect data for in our study, but yet we are tasked with creating a plan to improve them. We have so much to learn that scientific methods, with limited data, cannot solve.”

This work underscores the importance of learning and understanding historical contexts. A pivotal aspect of Truth and Reconciliation is reflecting on past failures. We must emphasize the need to address systemic issues, such as inadequate resource allocation and pan-indigenous assumptions. By advocating for thorough research and genuine relationship building, Engineers Canada exemplifies a commitment to building trust and fostering authentic partnerships – a cornerstone of successful Indigenous engagement.

Educational Reform

The best place to start to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into engineering is to start early, during engineer’s formative educational years. In a report to the House of Commons in 2019, Engineers Canada wrote, “to retain Indigenous talent in the engineering profession, it is important to first attract Indigenous people to post-secondary engineering education.”

One of the central themes highlighted by the paper Indigenizing Engineering Education in Canada is the need for a diversified approach to engineering curriculum – one that acknowledges and integrates Indigenous ways of knowing alongside Western scientific principals. The authors of the paper acknowledge their own positions as both educators and participants in the Western knowledge system, underlining the need for reflexivity and humility in this work. Ultimately, they advocate for a balanced approach that respects diverse perspectives while challenging the status quo.

Incorporating Indigenous perspectives into engineering education requires a fundamental reevaluation of traditional teaching methods and content. The concept of “Two-Eyed Seeing” or “Etuaptmumk” introduced by Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall from Eskasoni First Nation, emphasizes the importance of blending Indigenous and Western knowledge systems. More specifically, “learning to see with one eye the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and with the other eye the strengths of western knowledges and ways of knowing, and to learn to use both yes together.” By fostering collaboration and mutual respect between these two paradigms, engineering schools can better prepare students to address complex real-world challenges while incorporating Indigenous perspectives.

Indigenizing the Workplace

Moving beyond the classroom, the indigenization of engineering must extend into the workforce as well. According to another report, commissioned by Engineers Canada and completed by Big River Analytics in 2019, only 0.73% of all engineers in Canada identify as Indigenous – well below the general labour force Indigenous identification average of 3.15%.

In a 2018 article published by Canadian HR Reporter, a panel of Indigenous experts highlighted the significance of integrating Indigenous perspectives into workplaces as a key aspect of the reconciliation process. Tracey King, an Indigenous HR consultant at Toronto Metropolitan University and a member of the panel, emphasized the ongoing underrepresentation of Indigenous individuals in mainstream workplaces. “If Indigenous Persons are to be acknowledged and recognized, we have to be able to understand and make positive steps,” she says.

King advocates for a departure from narrow job classification systems to incorporate Indigenous experiences into organizational frameworks, regardless of formal credentials. Challenging ingrained biases surrounding experience allows for a broader talent pool and fosters stronger relationships with existing employees. “Let us not be part of the systemic barriers that are holding Indigenous leaders back,” Tracey says. “Let’s bring them in and create spaces and places for them where they are part of the decision-making complement.”

Empowering Indigenous Engineers

As the dialogue around indigenizing engineering continues to evolve, it’s clear that concerted effort is needed from all stakeholders. By embracing the principles of indigenization and reconciliation we can build a more inclusive and culturally responsive engineering profession, benefiting Indigenous peoples and society as a whole.

Looking ahead, Stream Source is committed to continuing our efforts to advance Indigenous representation in engineering. Through ongoing collaboration with our partners, advocacy for inclusive policies and practices, and community investment, we are dedicated to creating a more equitable and inclusive engineering sector for future generations.

Through our partnership with Agilus, we are working towards securing long-term sustainable employment opportunities for Indigenous individuals and businesses. Our collaboration aims to promote diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging in the workforce, setting new benchmarks and best practices in Indigenous hiring and engagement.

We recognize the value that Indigenous peoples bring to the engineering sector and are committed to providing them with opportunities for growth and success. Are you ready to join us in building a brighter future for Indigenous peoples in engineering and beyond? Contact us today to get started.