According to the United Nations, there are over 476 million indigenous peoples living in 90 countries across the world, accounting for 6.2 per cent of the global population. Indigenous peoples are the holders of a vast diversity of unique cultures, traditions, languages and knowledge systems. They have a special relationship with their lands and hold diverse concepts of development based on their own worldviews and priorities.
Every Indigenous community is unique – with different experience, history, social customs, traditions, governance and social circumstances. What they share is an interest in making decisions that bring sustainable benefits, both now and in the future.
WSP recognises that success depends on building long-term partnerships and reinforcing a culture of sharing alongside First Nations people – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in Australia, Inuit, Métis and First Nations in Canada, and Māori, and Pasifika in New Zealand.
As a company with deep roots around the world, we understand the challenges these communities face and recognise the need for frequent, open and honest communication.
With more than 54,000 people readily available and qualified field resources and office support staff across the globe, including specialists such as anthropologists, archaeologists, biologists, environmental scientists, sociologists, socioeconomists, geographers, GIS experts, community planners, stakeholder managers, surveyors, Indigenous specialists, and engineers from multiple disciplines, we have the knowledge and experience where and when you need it.
Our approach is inclusive. We form strategic partnerships with local Indigenous communities to enhance our capabilities on projects and to understand the needs, expectations, concerns and beliefs of these First Nations people.
Changing the narrative to create better places for everyone
Today, all communities are trying to understand how to develop resilience and sustainability across, Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) criteria. It is only when we start to delve deeper into the issue of resilience that we think about the importance of social components, such as inclusivity in the narrative, and informing projects with insight from Indigenous peoples – and, indeed, contemplate the value of collaboration with Indigenous communities in the planning and design of infrastructure.
Indigenous peoples can inform this process with their distinctive histories and perspectives. The culture of Indigenous peoples – each unique in their own Country and region and often struggling against the historic impacts of social conditions – can bring different perspectives on the connection to factors that challenge sustainability. Culture, as defined by world view, language, definition of space as well as personal and shared group experience, can be brought forward to advance current understandings of resilience.
Including Indigenous knowledge in projects can lead to a shift in, and enhancement of, current practices that are applied to strengthen both resilience and reconciliation.
The Australian perspective
In Australia, we acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and the places on which we live and work. We believe that reconciliation is a means to bring about mutual understanding and learning that will ultimately serve to create a sustainable, vibrant and connected future for all Australians.
WSP started our journey in 2010 as one of the first engineering consultancies to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). Our RAP was developed in consultation with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee which consists mostly external Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from different geographies. This is in keeping with our desire to add transparency to our intentions towards mutual understanding.
As part of our commitment through our RAP, we are keen to involve Indigenous communities in infrastructure, connecting people and stimulating growth for Indigenous businesses.
Importantly, in 2018, we established an Indigenous Specialist Services practice that works to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and culture in the design of infrastructure and built environment projects. This helps create strong and culturally respectful relationships with Indigenous communities. To date, we have worked on many projects including Woolgoolga to Ballina, Southern Program Alliance, Special Activation Precincts and more.
On Tuesday 9 July 2019, we joined our clients, industry colleagues and fellow Australians in recognising the importance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart to Australia’s First Nations people. We accepted the invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
Leaving no one behind
Today, on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we support the UN's demand for the inclusion and participation of Indigenous peoples’ in the constitution of a system with social and economic benefits for all.
The theme for 2021: ‘Leaving no one behind: Indigenous Peoples and the call for a new social contract’ is very much aligned the Uluru Statement from the Heart and seeks for genuine participation and partnership that fosters equal opportunities and respects the rights, dignity and freedoms of all. Indigenous peoples’ right to participate in decision-making is a key component in achieving reconciliation between indigenous peoples and governments.
“While we still have a long way to reducing inequalities in of all kinds in business and society, we have made a point in Australia to embark on a collective journey to ensure that no one is left behind, including Indigenous peoples,” says Russell Reid, Senior Aboriginal Affairs and Participation Consultant and RAP Lead. “We know this takes time, but I firmly believe that we are on a path to reconciliation and gaining a greater understanding of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“Our awareness of these issues have grown considerably over the past decade and reconciliation is at the very heart of our business today – we want a future where no one is left behind.”