Author of the book There is Something in the Water, Dr. Ingrid Waldron is a powerhouse of a community activist and researcher. Using community based participatory research (CBPR) to examine environmental racism in Nova Scotia, Dr. Waldron took on the ENRICH Project in 2012. At first Dr. Waldron was hesitant as she didn’t know much about environmental racism. However, later on she realized that her research in “social, economic, and political inequalities that shape health outcomes in Indigenous, Blakc, and other racialized communities” could make a significant contribution to understanding the health inequalities in Nova Scotia.
It was only after Dr. Waldron’s book was published in 2018 that actress Ellen Page got notice of the work that needed to be done and expressed a desire to help the Indigenous and Black communities. After much discussion, the decision was to produce a documentary by the same name. The documentary premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and was released on Netflix on March 27, 2020. We were able to dive deeply into Dr. Waldron's amazing journey and the results during this week's conversation.
When asked if the landfill contamination in Shelburne water was responsible for their high cancer rates, Dr. Waldron responded:
“It’s probable, highly probably. We did testing, we found contaminants in the well. Now, the issue is that, you could no longer have contaminants now, but you would have had contaminants in the past, do the people who are currently dealing with cancer, that might be a result of contaminants in the past. You also have to be careful about being conclusive. As a researcher, I have to stand back and say it is not conclusive but it is highly probable.”
Nova Scotia is historically the oldest and largest community of color in Canada, and continues to have the highest concentration of African Canadians in the country. “A study from Winnie Benton and Sandra Loppie (2001) found that African Nova Scotians had a higher cancer mortality rate than the general population, which they attribute to systemic forms of racism within various social institutions including the health care system” (Waldron, p.98).
Oftentimes, environmental racism acts in a cyclical nature. Low income and mainly black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) tend to be destabilized due to the myriad of injustices and social ills they are already experiencing, such as low income or under employment, that results in violently unfair policy decisions. Governments often place landfills, paper mills, and other hazardous projects in these areas without consulting the community, furthering the detriment to their personal health and environment.
Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR)
Dr. Waldron emphasizes the importance of community based research. This was originated in health research, a familiar area for Dr. Waldron, and allows the community to have direct say in how the research is conducted. It starts with engaging the community before the research even begins, informing them of the researcher’s intention and asking how the researcher can give back to them.
Building and maintaining trust and integrity is crucial. From there, the community prioritizes the research, proposes the questions they want studied, and how they want it shared. This creates a partnership where the community is allowed to speak for themselves. The difference between extractive research and research that empowers the community is vast.
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