Alumnus leads infrastructure projects for Indigenous communities
Western Engineering News | January 20, 2020
Many Indigenous communities have been without clean drinking water for years, and their inhabitants are currently living in hazardous conditions. While the federal government has pledged to eliminate the need for water-boiling advisories by 2021 and is taking steps towards improving water treatment for First Nations, many Canadians feel that these efforts do not come close to remedying the water crisis facing hundreds of Indigenous communities.
Western Engineering alumnus Cory Jones, P.Eng., BESc’97, has spent his entire career working with Indigenous communities to implement water treatment and distribution systems.
For the past six years, Jones has served as President of Neegan Burnside Limited, an engineering and environmental services firm that focuses on water and wastewater treatment and infrastructure projects with Indigenous communities. Neegan Burnside evolved and grew out of R.J. Burnside & Associates Ltd., where Jones started his career, and the company has been conducting First Nations and municipal projects since 1970.
“When the Indigenous-focused firm was created in 1999, it was natural for me, as an Ojibwe man, to transition into the new company, though I continued to gather experience working for both firms,” said Jones. “Both companies continue to exist in harmony, supporting project endeavours through our various areas of expertise.”
Jones and his team are currently working on several transformative community projects, in addition to implementing community water treatment and distribution systems.
For Jones, the Watay Power Project in Northwestern Ontario constitutes a current standout venture. Neegan Burnside will assist in bringing the Ontario power grid to 17 remote communities, all of which currently rely on diesel-generated power.
“This project is a huge undertaking,” says Jones. “Neegan Burnside is involved due to our experience working in remote Ontario and with the participating communities. We are honoured to have a small part in what will be one of the most important infrastructure projects to ever take place in Ontario, guided by Indigenous ownership.”
When asked what sparked his interest in engineering, Jones credited his father for encouraging him to pursue a university education in engineering. Jones’s father was employed as an iron worker for much of his early life and later ran his own contracting business.
“Growing up, it felt like I was always helping my dad fix something, building a project or trying to work through a problem,” said Jones. “That mix of early practical construction experience and the opportunity to apply some of that with an engineering degree appealed to me.”
Jones recounted an experience that occurred when he was just 16 years old that steered him towards engineering. In the summer of 1989, Jones worked with his father on a new water system project in his community of Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker). For six weeks, Jones helped clear brush for a new subdivision that was being built as part of the community’s water system development. He even had the opportunity to sit in on meetings with the contractor and engineers, all of which enabled him to see pieces of the entire project come together.
The engineering firm that designed and oversaw that project was R.J. Burnside & Associates Ltd.
“When they later found out I was earning my engineering degree, they offered me a summer job in 1996,” said Jones. “This alignment of chance reinforces to me that part of my interest in engineering is that it has always provided me with opportunity – opportunity for employment, opportunity for new experiences, opportunity for personal growth, and opportunity to make a difference.”
In terms of translating his education into a successful career, Jones considers his ability to assess and solve problems to be the most important skill that came out of his engineering education at Western. Mastering the ability to problem solve and develop an approach for addressing concerns, whether it be individually or collaboratively as a team, is invaluable.
“I’ve grown with a firm that is rooted in strong social values and provides opportunities to assist a part of Canadian society that needs educated professionals to address their concerns,” says Jones. “I feel that, as an Indigenous man myself, I have a duty to participate. If, as an organization, we see that there is something that will benefit our clients that we don’t currently do, or that we can do better, we work toward providing that.”
Jones and his team at Neegan Burnside recognize the unique history, culture, and traditions of each community in which they work. “We’re simply trying to provide the services our clients need and deserve,” says Jones.
To learn more about the notable work being conducted at Neegan Burnside, visit neeganburnside.com.