Brick by Brick: Danilo Caron Engineers a Career That Builds In Indigenous Worldviews
“My journey took a long time. But I'm really happy to be here. I'm really loving the field of work that I'm doing. As a student, I get to explore engineering at the leading edge as well, because in research, you're often posing questions that there are no answers to. That's a really fun part for me, too,” shares Danilo Caron.
He is a PhD student in Civil Engineering at University of British Columbia, a member of the Marten clan who was born and raised in Kamloops, British Columbia. Caron and his mother are members of the Sagamok First Nation, near Sudbury, while his dad’s family immigrated from Italy. He has lived in Vancouver for over five years and describes his upbringing as "eurocentric."
Caron started engineering school at the age of 41, twice the age of many of the other students in his cohort. After high school, he did a degree in physics and later drove truck. A red seal bricklayer by trade, he went on to apprentice under his dad and worked in the family business with his siblings. He was fascinated by and curious about how things were built.
That curiosity drove him towards engineering, where he could be part of construction in a different way that incorporated his hands-on building experience into engineering design. He also wanted more influence than he had as a contractor. “How we design and build things has consequences beyond the actual built structure itself. I felt myself being constrained in what I could do, and I have larger societal goals that I would like to see,” he elaborates.
Caron’s research in civil engineering looks at the process of designing and building projects to better incorporate Indigenous worldviews. He’s inspired by techniques and building materials, and by a desire to promote Indigenous values in the field of engineering. He wants to find ways to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from traditional knowledge keepers in a way that influences engineering and architectural design.
“We're always modifying what's on the land and what's under the ground. We do that without really considering other worldviews and, when we're on unceded territory, it should be obvious that we should be incorporating the worldviews of the people who are original inhabitants,” he says.
“One of the major things that I've come to learn is that we come from different cultures, bring different priorities, and Western ways of looking at cities are very different from a lot of Indigenous cultures. I think we can certainly learn from both,” he continues.
As a labourer, he would see his father’s frustration when engineers would design things in a way that didn’t always make sense from a construction perspective. That informal learning has informed his classroom education in engineering and shapes his perspective as he designs projects.
His advice for young people considering pursuing higher education is to not wait until their forties, but if they do find that the path they have chosen doesn’t lead where they hoped, there’s always time to reevaluate and go back to the drawing board. Leaving family and friends behind to go to school can be hard, but he encourages youth to find community at school. “It's very daunting to go to a new place, especially a place that's bigger. But when you actually land there, and you find a community, it becomes smaller again,” he reflects.
The first year of engineering school was particularly tough, with 60 hour weeks in school while also being a father and a husband. At school all day, he would come home for dinner with his family, care for his child in the evening until bedtime and then study until the early morning. The grind left him exhausted but the support of his loving family and his own perseverance got him through.
If he could tell his younger self anything it would be “if there is something that you are constantly thinking about… if there's something nagging at you, listen to that inner voice, and follow it.” It took him a long time to find the confidence to do so himself and he hopes young people will follow their hearts and dreams.
To balance his mental health as he chases his dreams, he likes to run outdoors and cycle, getting fresh air and working up a sweat. Caron has struggled to prioritize his wellness but he does what he can as a busy student and family man, commuting and running errands on his bike. As a bricklayer, he never had to take time to workout because his work was so physical, but he has to be more intentional now.
“Working outside with your hands, you get immediate satisfaction out of a job well done.”
After his years working as a bricklayer, he has advice for youth considering the trades. “.Everyone starts at the bottom… There's no real, like, like shortcut to the top. You learn through working and observing people…then all of a sudden, before you know it, you're the red seal trades person and you're teaching others,” he explains. As far as engineering, course planning for prerequisites start in grade nine or ten, or you can transition in through a community college program, so he encourages youth to plan early if they have a heart for engineering.
His journey to engineering took a long time but now he loves what he does. Exploring engineering at the leading edge as a student, posing questions that there are no answers to, he’s having a lot of fun. Danilo Caron is learning to build the values of the people of the land into the projects that will one day be built there, engineering a career that honours Indigenous worldviews, brick by brick and with each pencil stroke.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.