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Water First

Our Story

How we got here

Founded in 2009 to bring drinking water resources to rural schools in Uganda, we provided training on the operations and maintenance of the water and sanitation systems we installed. Water First began working with Indigenous communities in Canada in 2012, after being challenged and inspired on numerous occasions about why we weren’t working with communities here in Canada experiencing water challenges.

Our projects with Indigenous communities were initially small but grew quickly. Within a few years, our collaborations accounted for nearly 90% of program resources. Water First dedicated itself exclusively to working with Indigenous communities in 2016. We focus on technical skills training in the fields of both drinking water and environmental water, as well as water science education for Indigenous youth.

2009
In The Beginning
Tin Roof Global
Originally called Tin Roof Global, the organization was created in 2009 to bring drinking water to rural schools in Uganda. We trained local volunteers on how to operate and maintain the water and sanitation systems we installed.

Water First began working with First Nations in Canada in 2012, after being challenged on many occasions about why we weren’t working with communities here at home experiencing water challenges.

Our projects with Indigenous communities were small at first, but within a few years accounted for 90% of program resources. In 2016, Tin Roof Global changed its name to Water First Education & Training and changed its mandate to work solely with Indigenous communities in Canada.

2009
In The Beginning
Water sampling for Water First
2013
First Canadian Project
Shawanaga First Nation Baseline Water Quality Study
Our first-ever Canadian initiative, Water First partnered with Shawanaga First Nation for a community-based monitoring project in 2013. At that point, the community had been shipping in drinking water and they were interested in finding a feasible local source. Local youth were hired and received training in water sampling and water chemistry, as well as taught how to understand the data returned from the analysis of the samples.

Unfortunately, the community is still trucking in drinking water today.
2013
First Canadian Project
2016
Mandate Change
Officially Water First
In September 2016, Tin Roof Global Action Inc. officially became Water First Education & Training Inc. Along with the name change, our mandate also changed to focus exclusively on water issues affecting First Nations communities here in Canada.

Our mission is to help address water challenges in Indigenous communities in Canada through education, training and meaningful collaboration.
2016
Mandate Change
Water First Internship graduates
2018
Drinking Water
Indigenous Youth Graduate From Water First Internship Program
Ten Indigenous youth were honoured this morning for successfully completing the Water First Internship Program at a graduation ceremony held on the powwow grounds of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation.

“We are very proud of the graduates, who have studied and worked hard since early 2017 to obtain certification in drinking water treatment and environmental water quality monitoring,” said Water First executive director John Millar.

“These young women and men have shown incredible passion and commitment to building sustainable water systems in our communities, and today we honour that passion and commitment,” said Kevin Debassige, technical services manager for the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM).
2018
Drinking Water
2019
First Project in Quebec
Wrap up at Kebaowek First Nation
On January 24 people braved the freezing temperatures and gathered at the Eagle Dome at Kebaowek First Nation to celebrate the completion of the Walleye Habitat Restoration project, a partnership between Kebaowek First Nation and Water First.
2019
First Project in Quebec
2019
Water's Next Award
Water First Wins Award
Water Canada’s annual Water’s Next awards program honours the incredible achievements and ideas of individuals and companies that successfully work to make a positive change to water in our country and abroad.

In June of 2019, Water First won the top award in the Projects & Technology – Drinking Water category for our Drinking Water Internship Program.
2019
Water's Next Award
Interns from Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach
2019
Expanding Our Reach
Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikimach
In July of 2019, Water First and Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, located in northern Quebec near the border of Labrador, started a collaboration on a new environmental project.

This three-year project includes both a contaminant study to establish baseline mercury and heavy metals concentrations in the soil, water, and traditionally harvested fish, and a community-based fish habitat restoration and education project in the Caniapiscau River watershed. Three local young adults were hired as interns for the project — Lawrence Mameanskum, Wayne Nattawappio, and Kabimbetas Mokoush — and have so far received hands-on training for water quality analysis, fish & soil sampling, fish biology, fish population assessment, and fish habitat restoration.
2019
Expanding Our Reach
2020
Growing Roots
Empowering Indigenous youth to develop a passion for water science
Over the past number of months, Water First has been creating a new school-aged youth education pilot project, Growing Roots. Through this project, Water First is partnering with different communities to expand our youth water science education programming to maximize the involvement of Indigenous youth, leading to long-term environmental action and stewardship.

Water First worked with Christian Island Elementary school to deliver both indoor and outdoor water science workshops to every class. Students engaged in STEM-based learning activities such as biodiversity while observing local aquatic wildlife and plants. Students developing a passion for water science will help to end the disparity of Indigenous representation in the STEM fields.

Water First is launching our Growing Roots pilot in two other First Nations communities in Ontario and Manitoba in the spring of 2020, along with our second trip back to Chimnissing to support the students implementing their projects.
2020
Growing Roots
2020
New Drinking Water Internship
Bimose Tribal Council and Water First Announce New Internship
The Bimose Tribal Council in northwestern Ontario and Water First announce their partnership to deliver a drinking water treatment and environmental water management internship program for young Indigenous adults. Fourteen interns have been recruited from ten participating First Nations communities across the Bimose Tribal Council region, to address water challenges through the pursuit of Operator in Training (OIT) and Water Quality Analyst (WQA) certifications.
2020
New Drinking Water Internship
Photo taken on Whitefish River
2021
Third Internship Underway
Launch of The Georgian Bay Drinking Water Internship
Water First launched the next Water First Internship Program in the Georgian Bay area in partnership with Waabnoong Bemjiwang Association of First Nations (WBAFN), Gezhtoojig Employment & Training, Anishinabek Nation, and all the participating communities. This program will train 16 young Indigenous adults to become certified water treatment plant operators. All partners are committed to addressing the local need for more young and qualified personnel in the water management field to help ensure safe drinking water in communities.
2021
Third Internship Underway
2021
Expanding Our Projects East
Collaboration in Labrador Began This Summer
After acquiring an old fishing lodge on Park Lake, Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation (SIFN) in central Labrador are beginning a 10-year process to clean up and improve the lodge site to run a 100% Innu owned and operated tourism lodge, just south of Akami-Uapishkᵁ-KakKasuak-Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve. Water First is working with SIFN to develop a long-term fish habitat monitoring program for Park Lake, as well as fish habitat restoration to improve areas where garbage was left from the old lodge.
2021
Expanding Our Projects East
2021
Indigenous Schools Water Program
Outdoor Program Leads to Grade 9 Geography Credits
Nine Grade 8 students of Beausoleil First Nation participated in an 8-week outdoor experiential learning program with Indigenous School Water Program instructors and earned Grade 9 Geography credits.

Through land-based activities that related to the geography curriculum, the students earned their credits while participating in Beausoleil First Nation’s Wind and Water Monitoring Project, the first collaboration of its kind within Water First programming.

With the support of community knowledge keepers, Water First instructors incorporated the ongoing monitoring project to support the students in their learning and data collection. What students learned from local knowledge experts from their community made the program place-based, culturally relevant, and strengthened their connection to their community.
2021
Indigenous Schools Water Program
2022
Drinking Water
Fourth Drinking Water Internship Underway
Mamaweswen, The North Shore Tribal Council (NSTC), with seven member First Nations in Northern Ontario, and Water First announce their partnership to deliver the NSTC Water First Internship, a drinking water treatment and environmental water science training program for young Indigenous adults. Approximately 14 interns will be recruited from seven participating First Nations communities across the tribal council’s region to pursue Operator in Training (OIT), Entry Level Course (ELC), and Water Quality Analyst (WQA) certifications, which help trainees begin their careers in the water field. The collaboration will address the local, community-identified need for the recruitment and training of more young adults to the field of water science.
2022
Drinking Water
2022
Breaking Records
Indigenous Schools team completes a record number of programs throughout Spring/Summer
Our Schools Program team has been awfully busy this spring and summer, delivering exciting, hands-on water science programs to students at schools in Indigenous communities all over:

- Dokis First Nation (ON)
- Brunswick House First Nation (ON)
- Kuujjuaq Inuit Village (QC)
- Pinaymootang & Lake Saint Martin First Nations (MB)
- Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation (ON)
- Sheshegwaning & M'Chigeeng First Nations (ON)
- Magnetawan & Henvey Inlet First Nations (ON)
- Long Point First Nation (QC)
- Beausoleil & Wasausking First Nations (ON)
- Saugeen Ojibway Nation (ON)
- The Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach (QC), and
- Thunder Bay (ON).

A new program being developed by the Indigenous Schools team, Full Circle, has students learning about the entire water treatment process using flash cards, pipes and more. To bring the lesson 'full circle', the students visit a local water treatment plant. The students are showed the real-life versions of many of the stages of the water treatment process that they had learned in class, including intake pipes, UV lightbulbs for disinfecting and slow sand filters.
2022
Breaking Records
In early August, our Schools Program was honoured to join the Délı̨nę Got'ine Government's 5th Annual Sadǝ́ Camp.
2022
Northward Bound
Délı̨nę Sadǝ́ Camp
In early August, our Schools Program was honoured to join the Délı̨nę Got'ine Government's 5th Annual Sadǝ́ Camp. Working with students aged 6-13, the Schools Team delivered a week-long water and fish-themed program that focused on learning about Great Bear Lake. What did they get up to?

– Used water science tools to learn about water testing
– Explored about how their watershed connects to the Arctic Ocean
– Went on a boat to learn traditional methods of fish pulling
– Learned how to clean and smoke fish
– Made art using deer hides
2022
Northward Bound
Photo of a lake with low hanging clouds and mountains in the distance.
2022
Reaching Western Canada
Water First is in British Columbia!
Our Schools Program team made their first trip to the West Coast to deliver water science workshops for two communities, at Boston Bar School and Xwemelch'stn School. The trip flew by, but they're already planning to return to BC in May 2023 for more school programs where we'll get the chance to work with classes and spend time learning about the local watershed, participating in outdoor activities, and testing different field equipment for themselves.
2022
Reaching Western Canada
Winter water monitoring at Park Lake in Labrador.
2023
Environmental Water
Winter Monitoring at Park Lake
Winter water monitoring can be challenging – think temperatures below -30°, biting winds, snowdrifts that can bury buildings, and lake ice so thick you need two people to drill through it. But gathering winter water data is incredibly important, especially for communities in the north. Monitoring lakes and rivers throughout the year provides a stronger understanding of the stressors on aquatic systems and how they change from season to season.

For the Water First team, February was the perfect time to bundle up for a trip to Park Lake in Labrador to work with Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation (SIFN) and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach (NNK) on a winter water monitoring workshop.

The Park Lake workshop was a unique opportunity for participants from both communities to learn and winter monitor together.
2023
Environmental Water
Newest group of drinking water interns outside.
2023
Drinking Water
5th Drinking Water Internship Underway
Ogemawahj Tribal Council and Water First announce new training internship for water treatment plant operators.

The internship kicked off in June in Rama First Nation with eight interns from communities in the Tribal Council area.
2023
Drinking Water
Photo of Water's Next award recipients.
2023
Water's Next Award
Water Canada Awards celebrates the industry’s best in Ottawa
In June of 2023, Water First won another award through Water's Next, this time in the category of Downstream.

Water First was acknowledged for "their commitment to safe water access in Indigenous communities. Their efforts merge hands-on education with real-world training and internships, making a significant impact."
2023
Water's Next Award

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Water plant operator in the office