Myths surrounding First Nations

In the May/June 2016 issue, I was disappointed to see the letter from a fellow engineer entitled “Fuel cells at what cost?” (Engineering Dimensions, p. 77). As a practising engineer and a member of my governing council for my First Nation, reading this letter in my professional magazine is, to say the least, upsetting, as it is a stark reminder of how deeply-embedded myths surrounding First Nations continue to misguide the profession.

The letter perpetuates several myths, including:

  • Taxpayers pay for everything on First Nations;
  • The UNDRIP will impede natural resource development;
  • Any development involving First Nations will cost development companies millions; and
  • First Nations lack the capacity for management and operation.

While it is not my purpose here to provide a history lesson to my profession regarding First Nations in general, the letter contains many fallacies and assumptions about First Nations that are concerning. To obtain factual information on these issues, I would invite my fellow engineer to start by reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report and move on to the history of treaties in general within Ontario.

My purpose here in responding is twofold. The first is to express my deep disappointment that Engineering Dimensions would allow such a letter to be printed in the first place. The letter does not directly address the technical merits of the aforementioned article itself but rather presents unsubstantiated statements as though they are fact. The letter may be considered as a propagation of hate speech as defined by the Canadian Human Rights Act. The comments can be viewed as vicious, dehumanizing and marginalization against an ethnic population. It is no longer sufficient to hide behind a general disclaimer that “The ideas expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of the association….” Propagation of hate speech through any media that allows for it must be held accountable, especially professional publications.

My second purpose is to provide a voice for my fellow First Nations engineering professionals who are currently practising or ones who are considering an engineering career. We come from a number of unique and distinctive First Nations cultures in Ontario with inherent rights and a long and rich history of traditions and language. Yes, there will be individuals with skewed perceptions of the reality of our people but there are professionals who do educate themselves with fact, and we as First Nations professionals have a role in that education.

One of my fondest memories still remains the publishing of articles that I wrote for Engineering Dimensions in September/October 1992 outlining my work for First Nations communities as an engineer. I would encourage ED to reprint my platform article as it is still relevant today as it was in 1992.

The letter from my fellow engineer illustrates the alarming level of misconceptions that remain in our profession. It is incumbent as professionals to ensure we fully understand the social, historical and human elements of an issue before we allow ourselves to speak on it.

Kelvin Jamieson, P.Eng., Christian Island, ON 
Beausoleil First Nation