In a bid to improve access to clean water in First Nations communities, some young Indigenous members in Ontario will participate in a new environmental water program.

Canada, one of the world's most water-rich countries, stands out for its clean drinking water. However, many First Nations communities on reserves face contaminated, inaccessible, or at-risk water supplies due to inadequate treatment systems.

To address the critical need for clean water access, Water First Education & Training Inc., in partnership with Mamaweswen, The North Shore Tribal Council (NSTC), is launching an environmental water training and education internship program in six First Nations communities in Ontario, offering a new opportunity for Indigenous learners.

This 15-month program will see 10 participants from six First Nations communities in the province earning certifications in water quality, environmental data, and fish conservation.

“The opportunities for young people coming out of these types of programs are huge. There are many communities and organizations looking for employees, particularly within the water fields. And it may also be a stepping stone for them to go into higher education to learn more about science and impacts on the environment,” said Allan Moffatt, chief executive officer of NSTC in a statement shared with Canada’s National Observer. “Interns will be out in the rivers on their traditional territories practising environmental stewardship, monitoring fish habitats and water quality. This really fits in with many of our communities' long term plans for environmental sustainability.”

Water First is a charity that works with Indigenous communities to address local water challenges through education, training and collaboration. To date, the organization has delivered over 80 environmental water workshops, the statement reads.

Access to clean water affects over 2 billion people globally, including many First Nations communities in Canada.

According to Water First, the Indigenous communities face serious clean water challenges across Canada. The Environmental Water Internship aims to build local capacity, equipping participants with the skills to monitor water systems and potential food sources within their communities, the statement reads.

At Park Lake in Labrador, Environmental Water Program participants work together to learn how to record data collected as part of a fish population study. Photo submitted.

“This is a brand-new internship program for Water First. To be able to expand our training opportunities and fill a gap in the water science field was really important to us,” said John D. Millar, Water First executive director and founder. “Past partnerships with North Shore Tribal Council have been really successful, so we’re thrilled that we could roll out the Environmental Water Internship with North Shore communities. Delivering this program together means an even greater opportunity to support community capacity building and see more trained, skilled individuals able to continue working in water and fish resource management right at home.”

Water First, a charity focused on addressing water issues in Indigenous communities, has partnered with a Tribal Council that represents seven First Nations on the north shore of Lake Huron to deliver a new educational program for 10 participants.

The environmental internship is inspired by Water First's successful drinking water internship program, which has certified over 45 Indigenous participants since 2017, the statement added.

Millar said that each internship is tailored to the community's specific needs and landscape, promoting collaboration and technical capacity building. Upon completion, graduates can contribute to their community's water management, Millar added. Participants work with trainers, community members and Water First alumni, and receive support such as laptops, mentoring, phone allowance and child care to ensure success.

Ottawa is moving closer to giving First Nations control over their water supply with the First Nations Clean Water Act (Bill C-61). Passed unanimously by the House, the bill is now headed to the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee.

Bill C-61 proposes a First Nations-run water commission funded by Ottawa to enhance monitoring of water pollution and safety. It also mandates that Ottawa, provinces, and territories ensure stronger protections for water sources feeding into First Nations’ lands, granting them the same water quality rights as Canadian municipalities.

With files from Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer