Fighting Environmental Racism in Nova Scotia: Q&A With Advocate of the Year, Dr. Ingrid Waldron

Dr. Ingrid Waldron was recently named the Advocate of the Year at the Better Politics Awards for her work fighting environmental racism in Nova Scotia. Dr. Waldron is the director of the ENRICH project and an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at Dal.

Dr. Ingrid Waldron was recently named the Advocate of the Year at the Better Politics Awards for her work fighting environmental racism in Nova Scotia. Dr. Waldron is the director of the ENRICH project and an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at Dal.

One of the people who nominated Dr. Waldron for this award (and there were a few of them) had this to say about her: “Dr. Ingrid Waldron is a force. She is deserving of this award for embodying what it means to believe in the rightness of a thing and pursue social justice by all means”.

We recently asked Dr. Waldron to tell us a bit more about how she got started working on this cause, how she makes a difference, and some of the challenges she sees in making change in politics in Nova Scotia.

Mark Coffin (MC): Who are you an advocate for?

Ingrid Waldron (IW): I advocate for African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities on the issue of environmental racism in their communities. These communities are disproportionately affected by the social and health impacts of water, air and soil pollution and contamination because they are disproportionately located near polluting industries and other environmental harms.

I advocate for these communities in a number of ways, including:

1) creating public awareness about environmental racism through public events, social media and television, radio and newspaper interviews;

2) conducting research to collect data on community members’ concerns about environmental racism. The data, which is shared with government agencies, community members and other agencies, can be used to support community advocacy efforts and policy change;

3) creating legislation such as “Bill 111: An Act to Address Environmental Racism”, which I developed in collaboration with MLA Lenore Zann early last year. I am also working with the East Coast Environmental Law Association and Ecojustice on an Environmental Bill of Rights to ensure that the issue of race is central and that there is a focus on African Nova Scotian and Aboriginal communities;

4) building capacity in these communities to address some of their environmental concerns, such as engaging them in an initiative that will support them in testing their own soil and water; and

5) addressing the current environmental assessment (EA) and approval process by looking at ways to incorporate equity into the process. For example, my team hopes to begin a project in the near future that would incorporate a Health Equity Impact Assessment (HEIA) into the EA and approval process.

MC: What inspired you to take up the cause of fighting environmental racism?

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IW: I was approached in 2012 by an individual to take on this project. He was involved in advocacy efforts around the landfill near the African Nova Scotian community in Lincolnville.

While the general area of “the environment” wasn’t initially an interest of mine, I took up the cause because of my interest in racism. As a race scholar and a black woman, I am interested in addressing all forms of discrimination through my work. Environmental racism is one of many forms of racism that impact the lives and health of Indigenous and racialized communities in this country. Therefore, as a race scholar who has a particular interest in the health and mental health impacts of inequality, I was interested in learning more about environmental racism and its health impacts.

MC: A bill was recently introduced to fight environmental racism in the house of assembly. What role do you play in this, and where do you see it going now that it’s been introduced?

B97451573Z.120150429205320000GIE9D129.11IW: The Bill came out of my work on environmental racism in the province since 2012. I arranged a meeting with Lenore Zann in January 2015 to discuss strategies for addressing environmental racism in the province and she suggested creating a bill. I subsequently provided her with data and literature from the research I had conducted in the affected communities and she used that information to create the content of the bill. We also sought out advice from three professors at Dalhousie’s law school before we finalized the content of the bill.

The bill was introduced in the House April 29, 2015 and put forward to second reading and debated on the floor of House November 25, 2015. While the Bill has yet to be approved as legislation, we are hopeful that this will change in the near future.

MC: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your work as an advocate?

IW: The biggest challenge for me is dealing with competing demands of research, grant-writing, community engagement and community capacity-building. There are so many moving parts to this project, that I find it overwhelming at times. I also find it challenging to manage a project that cuts across so many different communities.

MC: How do you approach that challenge?

IW: Being highly organized is an essential character trait that one has to have to manage a project as large as the ENRICH project. But, most importantly, the ability to bring together a team of professionals, faculty and students with wide-ranging interests and experience in environmental justice and environmental racism has been crucial for sustaining this project. I have been lucky to have so many enthusiastic people on board who want to volunteer their time to this project.

MC: What is something you have learned about politics that you think might surprise most Nova Scotians?

IW: Unfortunately, I have to say that my impression of politics based on my experience with the introduction of Bill 111 at the House is that it seems to be more about winning against the opposition than about addressing the real concerns of Nova Scotians. And, most importantly, I see very little concern for communities that are most affected by poverty, racism and other inequalities in this province, namely Indigenous and Black communities. A government that fails to address the specific concerns of these communities is a government I have little faith in. 

Stay tuned for more blogs featuring interviews with the winners of this year’s Better Politics Awards.

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