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At every step, highly qualified and dedicated professionals are involved in our operations.

Staff Members

John Millar, B.A., M.A.

Executive Director & Founder
 
Water First Staff: John Millar

John Millar, B.A., M.A.

Position: Executive Director & Founder
Categories: Staff

John has extensive experience in First Nations engagement and non-profit management and has collaborated with nearly 50 Indigenous communities over the last 14 years. Throughout his career he has worked for and partnered with a variety of non-profit organizations focusing on community development, drinking water systems, environmental projects, education and training.

Kendra Driscoll, M.Sc., EP

Water Quality Specialist
 
Water First Staff: Kendra Driscoll

Kendra Driscoll, M.Sc., EP

Position: Water Quality Specialist
Categories: Staff

Kendra has a background in water quality monitoring and environmental chemistry. She completed a Masters of Chemical Science from Laurentian University in Environmental Chemistry and is a certified Environmental Professional through ECO Canada. Before working for Water First, Kendra was the Environmental Coordinator for Wahnapitae First Nation, and she also taught Environmental Science at Cambrian College. Kendra has a passion for water protection through science education.

Jag Saini, B.Eng., E.I.T., O.I.T

Project Manager & Instructor
 
Water First Staff: Jag Saini

Jag Saini, B.Eng., E.I.T., O.I.T

Position: Project Manager & Instructor
Categories: Staff

Jag has a background in chemical and environmental engineering and has experience with mining and environmental projects. Jag’s experience with cross-cultural work environments, including First Nations, together with his Operator-in-Training designation and volunteerism with Professional Engineers Ontario, position him to make valuable contributions to Water First’s work.

Dillon Koopmans, B.A., B.Ed., OCT

Educational Programs Manager
 
Water First Staff: Dillon Koopmans

Dillon Koopmans, B.A., B.Ed., OCT

Position: Educational Programs Manager
Categories: Staff

Dillon is an Ontario Certified Teacher of Potawatomi descent who holds Bachelors degrees in geography and education. He has collaborated with schools and community members in over twenty FNMI communities in Ontario, Manitoba & Quebec to deliver STEM-based science workshops and complete watershed restoration & conservation projects. He has significant experience designing and delivering in-class and land-based educational programs at the Primary, Junior, Intermediate and Senior divisions.

Ami Gopal

Director of Development & Communications
 
Water First Staff: Ami Gopal

Ami Gopal

Position: Director of Development & Communications
Categories: Staff

Ami has over 19 years experience and a proven track record in fundraising, resource development and marketing. She enjoys nurturing relationships with Water First donors and developing customized strategies to meet their needs. Along with sharing Water First’s stories and increasing awareness of our work.

Carli Lang, Ph.D.

Scientific Director
 
Water First Staff: Carli Lang

Carli Lang, Ph.D.

Position: Scientific Director
Categories: Staff

Carli’s Ph.D. research in environmental parasitology brought a community-based water sampling program to rural Panama, for a greater understanding of the intersection between human and environmental health. At Water First, she applies her experience and passion for water and community engagement in her work with First Nations communities. Carli enjoys the collaborative process of designing environmental water projects with communities and supporting them to complete these projects.

Jen Atkinson

Director of Operations
 
Water First Staff: Jen Atkinson

Jen Atkinson

Position: Director of Operations
Categories: Staff

Jen is a graduate of Sir Sandford Fleming’s Ecosystem Management Program and has over sixteen years’ experience in the environmental and non-profit sector. Jen is an accomplished field technician, manager and educator with extensive knowledge in water protection, conservation, sustainability & design, finance management and collaborative program development.

Jesse Wright, M.ES.

Fish Habitat Project Coordinator
 
Water First Staff: Jesse Wright

Jesse Wright, M.ES.

Position: Fish Habitat Project Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Jesse’s professional background includes extensive work as a wilderness fishing guide and environmental educator. His work at Water First focuses on fish habitat restoration in partnership with First Nations communities. He holds a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies from York University.

Brenda Lapell

Digital Communications Manager
 
Water First Staff: Brenda Lapell

Brenda Lapell

Position: Digital Communications Manager
Categories: Staff

With over 20 years of marketing and communications experience, Brenda has successfully developed online marketing campaigns and strategies for a variety of non-profits. She shares her vast experience to help Water First build effective public communications initiatives.

Riva Dawson

Accounting
 
Water First Staff: Riva Dawson

Riva Dawson

Position: Accounting
Categories: Staff

Riva’s extensive experience with bookkeeping spans nearly 30 years. With both commercial and non-profit experience, she previously worked for McDonald’s Ronald McDonald House Charities. She also runs her own independent bookkeeping business, Better Bookkeeping Solutions.

Kristen Engel

Director of Finance
 
Water First Staff: Kristen Engel

Kristen Engel

Position: Director of Finance
Categories: Staff

Kristen is the owner of a local accounting business and brings 25+ years of unique business experience working with entrepreneurs. This experience has given her great insight in assisting business owners and managers to utilize accounting reports for streamlining organizations.

Ryan Osman

Water Resources Specialist & Field Photographer
 
Water First Staff: Ryan Osman

Ryan Osman

Position: Water Resources Specialist & Field Photographer
Categories: Staff

Ryan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering and a Master’s degree in Water Resources Engineering from the University of Guelph with a focus on hydrogeology and climate change monitoring. He also gained experience in photography while working along with environmental organizations and with the surf industry.

Ashley Doucette

Office & Development Coordinator
 
Water First Staff: Ashley Doucette

Ashley Doucette

Position: Office & Development Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Ashley has over 5 years experience in office management and is one of the first happy faces you see when you walk through the door. She brings with her the excitement to learn and the skill of organization, as well as many other skills to assist you in your journey with Water First.

Adrianna Bilinski, B.Ed., B.A.

Indigenous School Engagement Coordinator
 
Water First Staff: Adrianna Bilinksi

Adrianna Bilinski, B.Ed., B.A.

Position: Indigenous School Engagement Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Adrianna is an Ontario Certified Teacher, and a woman of Ojibwe descent from Beausoleil First Nation. She holds Bachelors degrees in History, Gender Studies, and Education. As an educator — both outside and within Water First — her primary focus is to raise awareness of the historical and current question of equity and equality in Canada through First Nations, Métis, and Inuit views.

 
Water First Staff: Heidi Fuller

Heidi Fuller, B.Sc., PDPP, OCT, BCCT

Position: Learning Specialist
Categories: Staff

Heidi is a professional educator with over 16 years of experience in designing and delivering environmental and science-based youth and adult education programs. First teaching high school chemistry and biology in China. Then programs on household water treatment technologies and training of trainers in Afghanistan, Haiti and Zambia. Most recently, e-Learning courses for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. She is passionate about making scientific and technical information hands-on, accessible and engaging.

Greg Allan

Programs Communications Specialist
 

Greg Allan

Position: Programs Communications Specialist
Categories: Staff

Greg has worked with brands in an array of sectors across Canada and Australia in graphic design, interactive design, and film and video. He is excited to be using his passion for videography to share the wonderful work of the Water First team.

Mason Prout

Communications & Development Specialist
 
Water First Staff: Mason Prout

Mason Prout

Position: Communications & Development Specialist
Categories: Staff

Mason lives on the North Shore of Lake Superior, on the traditional lands of the Fort William First Nation in Thunder Bay. Mason has a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing Management from Ryerson University and has supported the environmental nonprofit community in positions such as Environmental Point Person and Social Media Coordinator for Patagonia Toronto and Shared Platform Coordinator at MakeWay Charitable Society. Mason is passionate about combining his experience with social media and design with his love for water and community engagement in support of Water First’s digital communications.

Sam Murray

Development Manager
 
Water First Staff: Sam Murray

Sam Murray

Position: Development Manager
Categories: Staff

Sam Murray is an enthusiastic fundraiser with over four years of experience in the field, specializing in third party fundraising and community engagement. She uses her creativity to make fundraising fun, and has built multiple programs from the ground up. Coming from an international development background, she is excited to focus on a local cause to raise funds for the important work that Water First does here in Canada.

Casey Remmer, Ph.D.

Senior Environmental Program Specialist
 
Water First Staff: Casey Remmer

Casey Remmer, Ph.D.

Position: Senior Environmental Program Specialist
Categories: Staff

Casey’s PhD research focused on understanding water quality and quantity in a deltaic landscape in Northern Alberta to address community concerns and inform First Nations and Canadian government conservation efforts. She has an interdisciplinary background that combines biology, chemistry and geography to find the best approaches to solving water issues. Her goal at Water First is to contribute to work that furthers environmental equity through meaningful collaboration and knowledge production that centers the pressing needs of First Nations communities and recognizes the value of braiding traditional and western knowledge.

Justin McGregor

Internship Coordinator & Trainer
 
Water First Staff: Justin McGregor

Justin McGregor

Position: Internship Coordinator & Trainer
Categories: Staff

Justin’s passion for understanding Indigenous water challenges began when he had the opportunity to work in his community’s water treatment plant in Whitefish River First Nation. Although his time there was short, Justin more deeply appreciated the need for safe, clean water and the impact that water treatment plants have in communities. Shortly after graduating from the civil engineering technology program at Cambrian college, Justin worked for his First Nation’s tribal council where he conducted GIS mapping work on his and affiliated First Nation communities.

Keegan Smith

Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
 
Water First Staff: Keegan Smith

Keegan Smith

Position: Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Before Water First, Keegan worked on hydrology projects around Canada as a Research Technician at McMaster University. His first community-based project was during his M.Sc. at Carleton University, studying snow hydrology with students from Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. With Water First, he looks forward to empowering communities with new scientific tools.

Jill Rajewicz, M.Sc.

Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
 
Water First Staff: Jill Rajewicz

Jill Rajewicz, M.Sc.

Position: Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Jill is a settler of European descent who lives on the traditional lands of the Fort William First Nation in Thunder Bay. Jill has a Masters of Science in Geography from Carleton University, Ottawa, with a focus on cryosphere (land ice and sea ice) and climate change in the Canadian High Arctic. Prior to joining Water First, Jill worked in Nunavut with communities to design and implement collaborative conservation and natural resource management projects. She has extensive experience doing fieldwork in remote places and loves to be on the land. Jill is keen to make science inclusive and approachable, and expand her understanding of the world through multiple ways of knowing.

Tanya Sackaney, B.Ed, OCT

Indigenous Schools Engagement Coordinator
 
Water First Staff: Tanya Sackaney

Tanya Sackaney, B.Ed, OCT

Position: Indigenous Schools Engagement Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Tanya is an Ontario Certified Teacher and holds a Graduate Diploma of Education in the Primary and Junior divisions, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Physical Geography. Her background includes several years of teaching experience on a First Nations reserve, as well as time spent delivering environmental programming. Her goal is to provide engaging and empowering, land-based learning opportunities for the Indigenous youth she works with.

Krysta Wordock

Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
 

Krysta Wordock

Position: Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Krysta is an OACETT Certified Environmental Technician (C.Tech.) who graduated from Mohawk College with an Environmental Technician Diploma and from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor’s degree in Geography. Her passion is water treatment and she has worked in different Ontario municipalities and industrial settings as a Class 2 Drinking Water Operator, as well as a Class 1 Wastewater Operator. She is an active volunteer within her community, mentoring girls in the FAB (Fit Active Beautiful) program and women as the Grand Valley OACETT Women in Technology Representative and former Chapter Chair. Krysta enjoys any opportunity to share experiences and to learn. Working at Water First, Krysta hopes to further her understanding of how to care for water and to share her experiences and knowledge of water treatment.

Cory Savage

Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
 

Cory Savage

Position: Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Cory’s M.Sc. research at the University of Waterloo helped develop a water monitoring program for a vast floodplain in Northern Alberta to address concerns over industrial expansion that were expressed by local Indigenous communities. Cory has also previously worked alongside a team of knowledge producers from First Nations communities, government, and universities to inform conservation of water resources in the Northwest Territories. At Water First, Cory looks forward to meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities while sharing her love for water science and ecology.

Stephen McGovarin

Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
 

Stephen McGovarin

Position: Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Stephen holds an Honours Bsc in Indigenous Environmental Studies and an MSc in Environmental Life Sciences from Trent University. Stephen’s experience has been focused on environmental pollution, fisheries and community-based programs with First Nations.

Catherine Melillo, B. Ed, OCT

Indigenous School Engagement Coordinator
 

Catherine Melillo, B. Ed, OCT

Position: Indigenous School Engagement Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Catherine is an Ontario Certified Teacher in the Primary/Junior Divisions. She is passionate about environmental education and providing students with enriching experiential learning opportunities. Her background includes experience working for outdoor education centres, conservation authorities, as well as in-class teaching. Catherine is looking forward to collaborating with Indigenous communities to deliver water science programming for students, with a goal of fostering environmental stewardship.

Brooke Harrison

Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
 

Brooke Harrison

Position: Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Brooke graduated from Trent University with a degree in Environmental and Earth Sciences, during this time she worked at the Peterborough Water Treatment Plant growing her interest and knowledge in clean drinking water. Before coming to Water First, Brooke worked at Georgian Bay Forever conducting research and education on microplastics in freshwater ecosystems, working towards legislative change to stop microfibre pollution at the source- our washing machines. At Water First, Brooke is excited to work alongside First Nations communities who share a love for the aquatic environment. Brooke is lucky to call the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula home.

Jacey Bonertz

Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
 

Jacey Bonertz

Position: Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator
Categories: Staff

Jacey, a member of the Piikani Nation in Southern Alberta, first began her educational journey at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Following her graduation from the Chemical Engineering Technology program, she pursued her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at Lakehead University, from which she graduated in the Spring of 2022. Proud of her identity as an Indigenous woman in engineering, Jacey is excited to share her passion for STEM with other Indigenous youth and play a part in training and providing resources for current and future generations of water protectors.

Everett Horner

Operations Intern
 

Everett Horner

Position: Operations Intern
Categories: Staff

Everett is currently completing a Bachelor’s degree in Civil-Environmental Engineering and a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies at the University of Alberta. He is excited to be with Water First this summer to gain firsthand knowledge of the environmental challenges facing Indigenous communities and how modern tools and traditional knowledge work together to address them.

Board of Directors

 
Water First Volunteer: Leanna O'Brien

Leanne O’Brien

Categories: Board of Directors

With a 15-year career engaging audiences in business and non-profit sectors, Leanne holds a Master’s degree in professional communication. She is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Water First mandate, which addresses what she considers to be the most important issue of our time in Canada. Leanne is a descendent of dual heritage, of which Métis is a part, and grew up in Toronto, where she learns tai chi.

 
Water First Board: Leah Hagreen

Leah Hagreen, B.Sc.

Categories: Board of Directors

With a background in environmental consulting and program management, Leah’s experience and skills inform her passion for education and water, both at home and abroad.

 
Water First Board: Ian Heaps

Ian Heaps

Categories: Board of Directors

An entrepreneur with 20 plus years in building brands and sales through creative marketing and communications initiatives, Ian is co-founder of Blundstone Footwear Canada. Starting with one store in 1994, Blundstone’s distribution has grown to over 600 locations across Canada.

 
Water First Board: Teza Lawrence

Teza Lawrence, B.A.H.

Categories: Board of Directors

Teza is an award winning television and film producer and co-founder of Amaze Film & Television, working with YTV, HBO & Disney among others. She balances the bright lights of the entertainment industry with the bucolic pasture of her Duntroon farm.

 
Water First Board: Gary Pritchard

Gary Pritchard

Categories: Board of Directors

Gary is from Curve Lake First Nation and is the Manager of Energy & Environment at Cambium Aboriginal, a First Nations engineering and technical consulting firm. He has worked with and travelled to over 280 Indigenous communities and has over 14 years of work experience regarding environmental assessments, policy, project planning and permitting.

 
Water First Board: Heather Murphy

Heather Murphy, Ph.D.

Categories: Board of Directors

Heather is an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair specializing in One Health at the University of Guelph with a focus on waterborne diseases. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor at Temple University and held a variety of post-doctoral fellowships including one focusing on water challenges in Canadian First Nations communities. She also worked with UNICEF managing large-scale projects bringing water and sanitation resources to communities in the developing world.

 

Polly Bobiwash

Categories: Board of Directors

Polly Bobiwash is the Director of Labour Market Development at the Anishinabek Nation, which has 39 member First Nations communities. She has spent over 35 years providing counsel to First Nations individuals, organizations, and communities in the area of employment and training services, guiding individuals to secure both fulfilling and meaningful employment.

 
Water First Board: Edward H. Kernaghan

Edward H. Kernaghan, M.Sc.

Categories: Board of Directors

Ed sits on the boards of four publicly listed TSX Companies, is President of Kernwood Ltd., a private investment holding company and has over ten years experience working in the financial markets. Ed also has a passion for science and the environment, having completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics.

Indigenous Advisory Council

Water First does not identify as an Indigenous organization. As such, our Indigenous Advisory Council members provide valuable feedback on our programs and delivery in communities.

 
Water First FNAC: Bill Assinewai

Bill Assinewai

Categories: Indigenous Advisory Council

Bill Assinewai is the Technical Services Manager in his home community of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island. As the Technical Services Manager, Bill has worked on various initiatives and programs including the construction of a new water treatment plant. Bill was an important advisor and partner of the first Water First Internship on Manitoulin Island.

 
Water First FNAC: Sue Chiblow

Ogamauh annag qwe, B.Sc., MEM

Position: (Sue Chiblow)
Categories: Indigenous Advisory Council

Ogamauh annag qwe is crane clan born and raised in Garden River First Nation. She has worked extensively with First Nation communities for the last 26 years in environmental related fields. She sits on council in Garden River First Nation and is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Environmental Science at York University with a focus on N’be Kendaaswin (Water Knowledge). Sue has worked with Elders for the last 26 years documenting their knowledge and currently works with the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elders from the Huron Treaty area.

 

Jean Marie Colbourn

Categories: Indigenous Advisory Council

Jean Marie Colbourn is an experienced school teacher currently teaching at Christian Island Elementary School at Beausoleil First Nation. Jean is originally from Whitefish River First Nation and has taught in numerous Indigenous schools across the province, from James Bay to Georgian Bay.

 
Water First FNAC: Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, CM

Categories: Indigenous Advisory Council

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell is an Anishinaabe community worker from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. She has dedicated decades of her life to raising the status of Indigenous women in Canada and has helped build strong support systems for women as a founding member and president of many organizations, including the Ontario Native Women’s Association and the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Jeannette received the Order of Canada in 2018.

 
Water First FNAC: Murray McGregor

Murray McGregor

Categories: Indigenous Advisory Council

Murray McGregor is the Public Works Manager in his home community of Whitefish River First Nation. Murray has worked on various initiatives including the construction of the Water Treatment Plant, Low Lift Station, and Water Tower, among many others. He is a key collaborator with other departments within the Whitefish River First Nation on water initiatives as well as emergency preparedness planning. He also partners with other agencies, municipalities, and other First Nations where he is called upon for advice and guidance.

 
Water First FNAC: James Simon Mishibinijima

James Simon Mishibinijima

Categories: Indigenous Advisory Council

One of Canada’s foremost artists, Mishibinijima has created a unique body of artwork in North America and overseas. Mishibinijima began painting in his community of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and over the years he has been awarded many first and best of show awards at international art exhibitions. He has also developed curriculum materials for First Nation schools and continues to develop teachings to guide people to a positive future.

Advisors

 
Water First Advisor: Murray Richardson

Murray Richardson, Ph.D.

Categories: Advisors

An Associate Professor of Geography at Carleton University, Ottawa, Murray’s research focuses on watershed hydrology and mercury sensitivity, and spans geographic regions from southern Ontario to the Canadian arctic. Murray actively incorporates community-engaged scholarship practices into his research at every opportunity.

 
Water First Advisor: Jonathan VanderSteen

Jonathan VanderSteen, Ph.D., P.Eng.

Categories: Advisors

Jonathan was an engineering professor at the University of Guelph before becoming a project engineer working in the Water and Wastewater field. He has extensive experience related to civil and mechanical engineering, humanitarian engineering, and instructional and training program design.

 
Water First Advisor: Bob Rae

Bob Rae

Categories: Advisors

Bob Rae is a former Premier of Ontario and a former interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He now advocates for First Nations on a number of issues, including the right to safe drinking water.

Ambassadors

 
Water First Ambassador: Nadia George

Nadia George

Categories: Ambassadors

Nadia is an award-winning Mi’kmaw-Canadian actor, media personality, public speaker, and now officially a Water First Ambassador. Her work focuses on uplifting young Indigenous voices by giving space for them to be seen and heard. She challenges the idea of what it means to be a contemporary Indigenous person by addressing stigmas and having open communication around contemporary Indigenous identity. Nadia advocates to bring awareness about equity within Indigenous communities around accessibility, health, mental health, and addiction. She seeks ways to improve the quality of life for all Indigenous Peoples; building bridges by providing learning opportunities to others and fostering positive reconciliation friendships.