5 Workshop 5: Exploring Indigenous Ways of Knowing in Engineering

Kim Anderson; Samantha Mehltretter; Tiana Bressan; John Donald; and Technical Editor: Faith Miller-Koren


Engineering is a Leadership Profession. We need to be able to lead ourselves, teams, and ultimately society. A term for this is socio-technological leadership. Historically, engineering has been a very technical profession, but we are now being called to look at our social impact. This workshop will focus on sociotechnical leadership in Canada and working with Indigenous communities. 


This workshop will be completed by a series of videos that share discussions and experiences from the workshop’s guest speakers, Dr. Kim Anderson and Samantha Mehltretter.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES                                                                                                                                   

This workshop will advance to leadership Domain 4, which involves societal leadership in engineering settings.

Following this workshop, students will be able to:

  • Recognize their own positionality in how they approach leadership and design problems.
  • Develop an awareness of cultural competence.
  • Listen to experiences of people from different backgrounds, cultures, belief systems, etc, and reflect on the paths they may cross.

LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT                                                                                                                            

Begin this workshop by listening to a land acknowledgment that recognizes the traditional territory of the University of Guelph.

Reflect: How did you feel about the land acknowledgment?

Read below about what other University of Guelph students said they felt?  Are there any similarities in your answers?

“Opening an event or workshop with a land acknowledgment allows us to begin with gratitude and recognition for who the land we are residing on belongs to and all that it gives us. Actively listening to the land acknowledgment provides me with new knowledge and an outlook about the land that I am on. I did not know about the A Dish With One Spoon territory, which was a really beautiful message to hear.”

-3rd Year Biomedical Engineering Student

“This land acknowledgement really helped to keep me grounded, giving me some perspective of how we should treat and respect the lands that we are on. The video served as an excellent reminder of how things came to be, and helped orient me towards the content in the rest of this workshop.”

-4th Year Mechanical Engineering Student

“This made me think back to whenever I heard the land acknowledgement in my high school before announcements. I didn’t give it a lot of thought back then but now I appreciate the historical and geographic context Kim was able to give us. Now I have much more insight to what the land acknowledgement truly means. And now I feel much more prepared to proceed through the workshop.”

-2nd Year Biomedical Engineering Students

MEET YOUR SPEAKERS                                                                                                                                    

The following video will introduce you to the guest speakers for the workshop. The focus of this workshop will be a conversation between the two speakers so it is important to get to know them and their stories.

ENGINEERING & COLONIZATION                                                                                                                  

“It’s not an engineering problem, it’s a colonization problem.”

As an engineering student, when you think of the Indigenous water crisis, you may think to yourself of numerous ways in which you can fix it and technologies and developments that can be made to do so. But we should also be questioning: why it is it that an Indigenous community right next to a municipality will have a drinking water advisory, while the municipality has clean drinking water? Maybe the engineering solutions are not the only problem. Watch the video below, where Dr. Anderson will explore this topic more.

Now that you have finished the introduction to this workshop, take a moment to reflect.

  • Has your mindset regarding Indigenous Ways of Knowing in engineering changed since before you started the workshop?
  •  What are you looking forward to exploring in this workshop?

After reflecting, please begin the main portions of the workshop below.

This workshop will be split into two main parts:

  1. Engineering & Culture.
  2. Building Cultural Competence.

Part 1: Engineering & Culture                                                          

THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING & SHARING STORIES                                                                       

In our lives we will cross paths with many people from various backgrounds, cultures, belief systems, etc. that are different than our own. In this workshop, the focus is on the Canadian context. Dr. Kim Anderson will first introduce you to why listening and story telling is important when working with Indigenous communities.


The following videos include a Q & A and storytelling series that will allow you to explore these ideas by hearing from a past engineering graduate and her experiences with working with Indigenous communities.


Before watching the following video, take a moment to reflect on what you think a leadership role may look like when collaborating with Indigenous communities? This leadership position may be different from what you normally think of or are used to. It is important that we begin to look at how to decenter ourselves when working with an Indigenous community with different expertise.


Sam takes time to highlight some of the biggest lessons she has learned from her work with Indigenous communities. Listen as she reflects on her own self awareness, understanding and ways of presenting herself.

Sam reflects on so many valuable points from her experiences, highlighting the importance of the following:

  • Listening
  • Observing
  • Understanding
  • Being a Follower
  • Building Relationships

We recommend you take the time to read the following resource to learn more about decolonizing metholodies and working with Indigenous communities: Linda Tuhiwai Smith, “Colonizing Knowledges,” Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999; London, UK: Zed Books Ltd., 2016), 61-80. 


ACTIVITY 1: ENGINEERING & CULTURE                                                                                                       

After finishing Part 1: Engineering & Culture, answer the following reflection questions:

  1. What were some parts of the conversation you found interesting? Was there anything you can relate to?
  2. What was one experience where you interacted with a different culture, social class, gender, etc.? What have you learned from that experience?
  3. What are your key takeaways from Part 1 of the workshop?


  • With a small team, you are able to see more of the leadership skills covered in previous GEL workshops. As you move to a societal leadership level, working with other communities, being able to collaborate, working with an open mind and being able to follow rather than lead are very critical skills.
  • Context is important when we as engineers are creating problem definitions because we may not even be aware of the real challenges. Collaborating with the community can help come up with a solution that helps address their actual needs.
  • Take the time to hear from others and build relationships before trying to develop a solution.
  • Settler research culture tends to focus on efficiency and timely effectiveness. When you go into a community that you are not familiar with, it is important to recognize the way that the community values their time, and that it may be different from your view.

Part 2: Building Cultural Competence                                             

Cultural competence can be loosely defined as the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own. When working with groups that have different views or ways of doing things from our own, including Indigenous communities, we must do the inner work to begin to recognize, understand, and value these ways.

DeAngelis, T. (2015, March). In search of cultural competence. Monitor on Psychology, 46(3). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/03/cultural-competence


The following video discusses Sam’s experiences, as she reflected on herself and positionality as a settler researcher in engineering working in an Indigenous community.

Sam identified a negative thought pattern that she experienced during her second field trip. Self-reflection helped Sam to realize that although her first field trip had a huge impact on her career (she started a PhD with UofG and Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation), that the Manomin Project was one of many projects being run by the community.

When working across cultural divides, it can be important to pause and ask “Have I rushed to a conclusion? Are alternatives possible?” Remember, building and maintaining healthy relationships requires time and open communication.


In the next part of the Q&A, Sam speaks about the importance of talking less and listening more, as well understanding the context and history that you are entering into.



Completing a community-engaged research project can be both intellectually and emotionally challenging at times. What support services can you access at the University of Guelph to help you navigate the learning process? University of Guelph counselling services is a great place to seek this support.

Sam also shows us that the more that you can listen empathetically, the better positioned you may be to grow through these challenges.

What appeared, at first, like a criticism reflected community pain about colonial violence. Sam focused on the feeling behind the words (i.e., pain) to identify a need (i.e., respect and recognition from Canada and Ontario) and, as a result, was able to consider pathways for enriching the relationship. The Manomin Project co-developed a common vocabulary to help identify trigger words and to ensure team members communicate in culturally-safe ways into the future. The vocabulary list grows alongside the relationship.


After being asked this important question by Dr. Anderson, Sam shares the importance of recognizing that there are different ways of viewing the world than your own. Coming from a western engineering background, she was used to viewing the world from a western science point of view, but through her experiences with an Indigenous community her perspectives have been widened. Hear more about her thoughts and experiences in the video below!

ACTIVITY 2: BUILDING CULTURAL COMPETENCE                                                                                    

After finishing Part 2: Building Cultural Competence, answer the following reflection questions:

  1. Was there anything that surprised you? Was there anything you are interested in knowing more about?
  2. What are potential next steps you can take as a developing engineer? What knowledge, attitudes, and competencies could we develop?
  3. What was your key takeaway from that discussion or Part 2 overall?


  • Collaborative knowledge is very beneficial – Weave the knowledge of the Indigenous community you are working with and your own personal knowledge together.
  • As engineers, there are certain skills we cannot fully learn in a classroom. There are other experiences we can gain by interacting with different communities and collaborating with others to develop solutions that we may have never thought of on our own.

WORKSHOP KEY TAKEAWAYS                                                                                                                        

There are some key takeaways that we wanted to highlight.

  1. Listen
  2. Respect Indigenous Knowledge
  3. Build Relationships
  4. Get involved and do the work

Watch the final video below to hear Dr. Anderson’s and Sam’s final thoughts and takeaways!


Click here to access the workshop worksheets.

Listed below is additional resources to continue your learning:

Indigenous Canada – Coursera Course

A Sacred Trust – Youtube Video

Allyship Toolkit

More Information (General)



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Guelph Engineering Leadership Workshops 2021-22 Copyright © by Kim Anderson; Samantha Mehltretter; Tiana Bressan; John Donald; and Technical Editor: Faith Miller-Koren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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