People & Culture

Dr. Ingrid Waldron on environmental racism

Waldron spoke with Canadian Geographic about representation for women and racialized communities

  • Mar 27, 2021
  • 1,319 words
  • 6 minutes
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Ingrid Waldron is an interdisciplinary scholar who has helped spearhead the conversation on environmental racism,  most recently with the C-230 bill (which passed late March). Her degrees are in intercultural education, psychology and sociology support. Still, she has a particular interest and focuses her research on health inequities, mental illness in marginalized communities, environmental racism, climate change impacts in Black and Indigenous communities, and environmental justice. Waldron was also involved in creating the Netflix documentary with actor Elliot Page called There’s Something in the Water.

Ingrid Waldron spoke with Canadian Geographic about female representation in environmental work and the impact racism has in keeping up walls that need to be taken down.

On why female representation is important

It’s really important to have female representation because, as you know, there are certain fields or disciplines where women are underrepresented. I would say environmental sciences, actually, all the sciences. When I think of the people I know who are environmental scientists, most of them I would say are men, and very few of them are racialized. Women are underrepresented in certain fields, and it’s really important to highlight. I think it’s important to highlight the challenges women may have experienced, and I think the Can Geo Talks event will do that.

On challenges for women

I think for younger women who want to get into traditionally male fields, it is important for them to understand that there will be challenges. They should try and learn from how more senior women have navigated those challenges and some of the achievements and successes that we’ve all had. Particularly around the environment, which is an extremely challenging field in terms of policy and legislation and getting things to happen. Getting environmental justice legislation to be a reality in Canada is very challenging. That’s something that I want to share when I’m doing this work. It’s very, very challenging, but throughout the years, I’ve had various successes, and it’s important to keep going.
It’s good for other women to hear about women who are interested in those fields, and kind of based on what we say, they might make a decision that it’s a field that they want to get into. In many ways, they might say to themselves, “Oh, maybe I can do that as well, and I can learn from the challenges that they’ve had, and I can try to sidestep those challenges.” 

On where the barriers lay

I would say that the barriers are more about the challenges of doing this work and addressing environmental racism issues. For as long as I’ve been trying to address it with community members, it’s taken a long time and part of that has to do with racism. It has to do with policymakers who implement policies that are harmful to racialized communities and often aren’t able to see it or don’t want to see it. It’s about the topic, about the lack of words that these communities have in the eyes of disproportionately White policymakers. I come up against the systemic barriers and try to do this work and try to find ways to address the issue. But for me, long-standing inequities in Nova Scotia are because certain people from racial groups, and certain economic groups get to write policy. As long as they are in decision-making roles, it’s going to be very challenging to address these issues.

On the steps that need to be taken to solve the problems

I think many government people, but people in general, lack an analysis of racism, systemic racism. People have a good grasp of overt racism and what that looks like. But I find, in Canada, there is this denial of racism in that people don’t often understand the ways in which racism weaves itself into our system, whether it be education, criminal justice, employment, or the environment. People don’t understand that it emanates from racist policies, long-standing racist policies and that those policies continue and will continue until people recognize the ways in which racism manifests in Canada.

On the debate around Bill C-230

I watched the video of the debate, and one member of each of the two political parties that are opposed to the bill and one person was referring to my book, where I discussed systemic racism, and they were challenging everything I said in my book. Somebody asked me “Are you disappointed?” and I said no I’m not disappointed —it just tells me I need to do more education because these folks don’t understand what racism is.

The other politician said, “Canada’s a nice place, there’s no racism here” which is just ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous statement, it sounds like something that would come out of a child’s mouth. You can be a nice place and have racism exist. Just very infantile answers to very complex problems. If they don’t see racism as something that’s purposeful, , they don’t understand. They don’t understand that racism can happen in very subtle ways. But because these issues of race and injustice are so long standing, and because they’re so central to our social structures, and in many ways so invisible, it’s very difficult to detect because it’s the normal way of doing things. It’s become so normative, such a part of our systems.

On how Bill C-230 was created

C-230 is actually a bill that I helped develop with Lenore Zann in 2015. We met for coffee in early 2015, and she proposed developing a private member’s bill. She came back to me in February of last year and said, “I want to revamp that bill, let’s put it forward to second reading.” She drafted it first and sent it to me. I gave her my opinion, I provided feedback, did some revisions, made some comments on it, and sent it back to her, so I consider that, of course, a collaboration.
Most of the stuff that she has in there comes from my book. Her debate last year at the second reading, I had provided her with about five pages of community members’ stories and narratives. You want to make it personal, because it’s impactful to hear the stories of individuals. Those stories came directly from my book, and my meetings with community members.

On her documentary There’s something in the water

I noticed on Twitter that Elliot Page was promoting my book and promoting my project, just supporting what I was doing. I didn’t realize it was the actor, I was very surprised to find that out. I believe I direct messaged him, and I thanked him, and then we arranged to have a phone call at the end of 2018 and then again at the beginning of 2019. At some point, we decided that we should do a feature film 70 minutes long, not a short film, which is what we were planning originally.

It came out in April of 2019, after we filmed very quickly for six days. It went to the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 9, 2019, and then, we found out it would be streaming straight on Netflix on March 29 of last year. It was a bit of a whirlwind. Of course, it was very exciting, because you can’t find many Canadian professors who can say they have a Netflix documentary, I don’t personally know any. This is extremely exciting for someone like myself who never thought I would have a Netflix documentary. 

It’s bringing more attention to environmental racism around the world. Since the movie came out, I’ve been contacted by people around the world wanting me to do presentations or wanting to do screenings of the film and wanting my permission, and it’s been extremely overwhelming. This is what you want as an academic. You want your work to get out there because you also want to increase attention to the issues that you’re passionate about.


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