Profile with Dominique Henri

Dominique Henri (Quebec & Linacre 2006) is a Project Manager for GENIVAR, an engineering consulting firm. She holds a D.Phil. in Geography, a M.Sc. in Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford, and an Literature and Environmental Journalism from McGill University. She specializes in northern and aboriginal communities and Arctic ecology.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Dominique Henri: Home is Montreal. It’s where I was raised, and it’s the place I knew I wanted to return to when I was doing my studies at Oxford. I would say that my second home is the North – northern Quebec and northern Canada – on which I conducted research during my time at Oxford. I work on these regions now, from Montreal.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

Dominique Henri: Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti. It’s a beautiful, funny and down-to-earth love story. I also read a book on box gardening, which I could not put down; growing flowers and vegetables in the city has become a passion since I finished my studies.

Rhodes Project: What kind of music do you like to listen to?

Dominique Henri: All kinds! I love to listen to tango, flamenco, choir music, old rock, folk music with interesting lyrics and northern indigenous music. I also like to listen to classical music when I work. It helps me focus.

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Dominique Henri: I wanted to be an astronaut or a journalist, and I did neither! But still, there’s a bit of an astronaut and a bit of a journalist in what I do. I write about events and people and conduct interviews. Travelling up north is also sometimes like travelling on the moon!

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re working on right now?

Dominique Henri: I do environmental and social impact assessment for northern development projects in the mining, transport and energy sectors. I mostly work on projects located nearby indigenous communities. I am also conducting a couple of research projects on indigenous traditional ecological knowledge, the aim being to ensure that the perspectives of the indigenous inhabitants of northern communities are included in development plans, and that adequate mitigation measures are put into place so that development projects can be done in a way that is respectful of northern ways and priorities.

Rhodes Project: What kind of challenges do you run into with that kind of work?

Dominique Henri: Many! The first would be to build trust with different representatives from indigenous organizations, the mining industry, the government and other citizens’ groups. Big development projects carry a lot of passion and debate and not everybody agrees on how things should be done, so I see myself as a facilitator and mediator who tries to bring people from all kinds of backgrounds to the discussion table. To do that, one needs to be very tactful and respectful of differing perspectives.

The second challenge is to communicate concepts in a variety of languages and with people from a variety of educational backgrounds who may or may not be familiar with scientific vocabularies and methods. I try to convey ecological concepts in a manner that is easy to understand.

Finally, time and money are a big challenge because in the consulting world, everything has to be quickly delivered and efficient and you have to try to do a lot with sometimes very small means. I always want to do more, but am sometimes limited by the amount of resources and by the pace at which things work. On the side of developers, things tend to move quickly. In the indigenous communities I work in, there is a different time-scale; people want to take the time to think about things, to discuss things to come to a consensus. To move back and forth between these two time scales and to integrate their pace into a timeline that is respectful of all stakeholders is a challenge.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to your sixteen-year-old self?

Dominique Henri: I would say to be even more open and flexible in terms of ideology. To be even more of a cultural relativist than I was. To try to understand things from other perspectives as much as possible before making any kind of judgment on how things should be.

 Rhodes Project: What would an ideal day look like?

Dominique Henri: Starting with a slow morning breakfast, reading the paper, some gardening. Right now I do that, but in a very compressed manner. And then just work from home, have time to think and read alone before entering the madness of people and meetings in the afternoon. And coming from work not too late to be with my husband. That’s the ideal world.

Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to devote to any one issue, global or local, what would it be and why?

Dominique Henri: There is one issue that is very dear to my heart these days and that is indigenous education. Take the Canadian example: the indigenous population is quickly growing and so is the need for capacity building and education. Education is crucial to allow indigenous groups to lead their present and future and there is a great need for adapted educational resources in indigenous communities. Dropout rates are quite high now, and what I see when working in communities is a will to engage in debates and projects. But to do that, people need the kind of tools that education can provide.

Rhodes Project: What’s something you’re looking forward to right now?

Dominique Henri:  I’m travelling to Japan with my husband in July! We’re looking forward to discovering Japanese history, culture and gastronomy. We’re visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, and then heading north. I always head north!

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