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Indigenous engineering - building a better future: Inclusive collaborations

Acknowledging and growing

The University of Waterloo's Library recognizes that library systems are built on colonial frameworks that historically do not represent Indigenous peoples, contributing to harm. While these shared structures and library systems enable libraries around the world to collaborate, they also privilege and prioritize Western knowledge at the expense of others.  Our Library is committed to equity, diversity, inclusion, and decolonization, and we are actively learning from Indigenous peoples, to meaningfully grow our systems to be inclusive of all peoples, types of information, and methods of knowledge creation.


Indigenous ways of knowing

Indigenous Knowledges are Traditional Knowledges developed and practiced within an Indigenous community.

These Knowledges are valid and offer valuable perspectives when holistically incorporated into research processes, ensuring comprehensive and multi-faceted depths of knowledge often unique to the geographic area and peoples involved in the research.  Indigenous Knowledges can initially differ from expectations when evaluated by researchers accustomed to the rigid frameworks common in Western ways of knowing that have been systemically normalized, so it is useful to understand how this knowledge is created and shared.

Indigenous Knowledges:

  • Are expressed in many formats, a few examples are oral ceremonies, art, dance, and sacred artifacts
  • Include interconnected areas of knowledge, a few being history, construction, agriculture, environment, medicine, and animal behaviour
  • Are shared and preserved across generations
  • Identify and question assumptions such as the domination of the natural world and extraction of resources, and hierarchical power structures such as ableism, patriarchy, and racism
  • Are increasingly accepted in academic institutions


When engaging with Indigenous people and cultures, it is important to be mindful that these are not monolithic groups and you cannot make assumptions in your research practices based off of the preferences of just one group. There is a diverse range of Indigenous peoples, each with distinct needs and unique practices for building, sharing, and preserving knowledge. Indigenous ways of knowing differ between groups and cultures. It is important to be specific about the culture you are referring to, and to avoid disrespectful generalizations such as Pan Indigenity.  

Indigenous people and engineering


Connecting with Indigenous communities

1). When creating an engineering design that has the possibility of affecting Indigenous peoples, communities, and treaty lands, it is essential to understand who is being affected so that you can build meaningful partnerships and opportunities for consultation. Indigenous peoples, their cultures, and their lands are all interconnected, and must be respected and understood as a whole to help establish a meaningful collaboration.

One resource that is useful for helping understand who you should be contacting, is the following website:

2). Once Indigenous groups local to the area you are researching are identified, you should connect with the relevant bands to discuss next steps of your research process.  To learn more about bands,  this overview written by Karrmen Crey as part of the First Nations Studies Program at the University of British Columbia is a good introduction:

3). Indigenous history contains a multitude of examples of non-Indigenous people taking and exploiting Indigenous knowledge and people. Understanding this legacy is essential before reaching out to an Indigenous group, as it helps situate your request in the bigger picture of the requests Indigenous people have previously received, and the requests they continue to receive.

To help prepare you to respectfully have this conversation, Jesse Popp, an Assistant Professor, and Chair in the Indigenous Environmental Science, School of Environmental Studies at University of Guelph has written an article with some excellent advice: Want to reach out to an Indigenous scholar? Awesome! But first, here are 10 things to consider

Davis Centre Library – Engineering Librarians