Water + Community: Creative Collaborations in Service of Sustainability

Swain family, Grassy Narrows First Nation, Ontario / video still from Human Rights Watch, Canada’s Water Crisis: Indigenous Families at Risk (2016) / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Arnqpnm70Ng

Bonier, C., “Water + Community: Creative Collaborations in Service of Sustainability” (Keynote)

iWISE: International Conference on Water, Informatics, Sustainability, & Environment / Richcraft Hall, Carleton University / Ottawa, Ontario, July 2017

Sustainability is a word that evokes positive connotations, despite two problems at its core. The first problem is embedded in the definition of the word itself. To sustain is to keep, to hold, or to maintain – a series of static propositions – but the processes of climate change, urbanization, and resource extraction demand positive tactics which are dynamic and forward-looking rather than preservationist in nature. The second problem is that the precise tools, metrics, and languages of sustainability are primarily the domain of scientists, academics, and other professionals. It is crucial that expert knowledge continues to evolve in its sophistication to engage complex problems and to propose more sustainable practices, systems, and structures. What we have increasingly seen, however, is a dangerous divide in which real populations suffer, particularly from water-borne catastrophes, while experts and government officials debate causes and effects. Water is a key element at the heart of sustainability, and its value is immediately tangible to every living being on the planet.  In this context, it seems increasingly important to imagine research techniques and grounded creative projects which arise from local knowledge, respect social histories, and engage communities in collaborations around water and sustainability. In this way, we may help to empower each following generation to define a more inclusive and resilient environmentalism, which considers social fabrics in integration with natural and technological systems.