Meet the interns and community mentors, both current and past, who have worked with Water First. Hover over an individual for a brief biography.

Nathan Copenace

Washagamis Bay First Nation
Passionate and dedicated, Nathan is from Washagamis Bay First Nation.

Nathan is committed to protecting his community’s water from contamination and learning more about how his First Nation community can develop their own source water protection plans. He joined the Internship to become a drinking water operator and help his community finally lift their boil water advisory.

"It's really interesting learning about the process of how we can make clean drinking water."

Aaron Pichenese

Eagle Lake First Nation
Prior to joining the internship, Aaron was working in drilling and blasting in an open pit mine. This internship was an opportunity for him to move home and work within his community of Eagle Lake.

Aaron has had a great experience working in his community’s water treatment plant so far, as well as being a part of the Eagle Lake First Nation 2020 Surface Water Sampling Program. This program will inform mercury remediation work on the English and Wabigoon River system.

Through the internship, he has a new appreciation for how much work operators invest in creating clean water before you run the tap at home.

"Most people take water for granted. It takes a lot of care, chemical procedures, and calculations to provide clean drinking water."

Aaron Keeper

Shoal Lake 39
While fairly quiet and at times shy, Aaron is one of our youngest and most determined interns.

A recent high school graduate, prior to joining the Water First Internship, Aaron had just completed his heavy machinery operator course. He plans to attend college following the successful completion of the Internship, where he wants to continue his education in water-related studies.

Since joining the internship, Aaron has encouraged others to get into the field of water treatment.

"Persistence and determination are important things [to have] for really anything [you want to achieve]."

Jamie Lee Parenteau

Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation
Jamie Lee has enjoyed the Water First Internship and learning about the important role this position has in the community. Following the Water First Internship, she is interested in championing the need for clean water and water treatment operators in First Nations communities.

"The only time people think about where their water comes from is when they can't drink it. They don't realize people are working 24 hours a day, testing daily, weekly, monthly to make sure the water is good."

Pierre Sinclair

Washagamis Bay First Nation
Pierre was born and raised in Washagamis Bay. Prior to joining the internship, he was employed as a carpenter.

Pierre enjoyed the Entry Level training session in Dryden. He has been hands-on, learning how to take raw water samples and collect data under the mentorship of his operator in charge.

Hunter Edison

Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation
Prior to joining the internship, Hunter was a millwright with Kenora Forest Products.

Hunter enjoys working in the Water Treatment Plant and has an extensive understanding of the work required to provide clean water to his community. From adjusting chlorine residuals to troubleshooting and planning. Hunter is excited to become a certified operator, and continue to provide clean water to his community.

Ivan Polchinski

Kebaowek First Nation
Before starting the restoration project, Ivan was working with Land Management at Kebaowek First Nation in various forestry-related jobs. As the mentor of the group, Ivan shared extensive knowledge about the traditional lands and waterways surrounding the community.

He said that he applied for the mentor position because it gave him the opportunity to work with other people and to learn about different aspects of restoration from the biologist and Water First staff. “I have fished my whole life on Lake Kipawa but I never knew how vulnerable the fish are.” Ivan appreciates the knowledge that he has gained about walleye, its habitat, and restoration techniques during the project.

Ivan hopes that he can continue providing knowledge and guidance to youth in the community. “Knowledge is the key, learning from each other and getting the knowledge out there can help the fisheries for the future. I love the fact that the youth in school are being taught about environmental stewardship and restoration through the Water First education workshops.”

Noah Mokoush

Naskapi Nation
Over the years, Noah has been inspired to take on community education projects. Everything from local concerns about stray dogs to diabetes studies and environmental projects. He shows his care through his work. “I like helping people and I’m very passionate about the land, our culture and the people.”

Noah is a Water First Environmental Intern. He has been involved in a contaminant sampling program for heavy metals and fish population studies in Kawawachikamach. “I want the community to feel secure and show them that it’s okay to fish, but we have to be careful. I want to help the community make better choices.”

His role as a community translator of traditional Naskapi has been helpful with the recent Water First food frequency questionnaire. Interns are collecting data on fish consumption and possible health risks due to heavy metals. “This will help us make more informed decisions about our diet,” Noah explains.

With a great sense of humour and a strong interest in learning, Noah has enjoyed the opportunity to connect with other Water First Interns. After attending a Water First workshop in Quebec City last fall, Noah shared, “I like that there were also people from different First Nation communities. They had different obstacles than us, but we got to learn and exchange ideas with them. I hope it will help to keep improving our restoration work.”

Sunny Payash

Grassy Narrows First Nation
Sunny’s motivation to join the Water First Internship program was because he lost two nieces due to the mercury contamination in the English River.

News of the Water First Internship program came to Sunny through a poster that a friend handed him. He signed up immediately. When he got the call that he had been accepted, he was very excited.

Sunny thinks being a water treatment plant operator is a good career and is interested in getting all of his certifications, even Wastewater. Water is important to Sunny to help make it better for his community’s children, who are the future. He wants to help his community end its reliance on bottled water. He has enjoyed meeting new people and appreciates how learning more about water shows him just how important clean, safe water is to all life. “Even Mother Earth needs clean water.”

"The internship is awesome. Commit to it and everything will fall into place," says Sunny.

Learning from home and working in his local water treatment plant has had its challenges. Yet, Sunny has consistently met these challenges with dedication, hard work and positivity.

Chris Wemigwans

Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation
“I wanna make sure that my children & grandchildren have healthy water, if that means that I have to track it to the source that that’s what I will do.”

Chris saw the Water First Internship as a chance to learn valuable skills and lay the groundwork for a career in his home community. Chris was hired by Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) after the internship and is now working as an OIT at the local water treatment plant.

Initially overwhelmed at the amount of information involved in testing water, twelve weeks in Chris started to feel comfortable with the work. “It’s really great to get so much hands-on experience,” he said. “For me, hands-on is so much easier to learn.”

“I like it because it’s environmentally based,” he said. “As I’m getting older I’m starting to think about the generations that are coming. This is important work.”

Naomi Mandamin

Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory
Naomi was born in Sudbury, and moved to Wiikwemkoong when she was in Grade 5. As a result, she says with a smile, “I’m not a bush person, I’m a city girl.”

She has been fascinated with science for as long as she can remember. “I’ve always wanted to work in a lab,” she says.

The scope of Water First’s training – from testing for chlorine, hardness, alkalinity and turbidity to microbiological analysis and surface water sampling – is right up Naomi’s alley. Naomi is now working as the Environmental Coordinator for UCCMM.

Eric Vautour

Sheguindah First Nation
Now a graduate from the Water First Intern program, Eric splits his time between the water plant and working on environmental projects like his communities source water protection plan.

Eric explains, “This Internship has taught me more about the situation of clean water in our province. I didn’t know how many First Nations communities were without clean water. I really want to change that in the next few years.”

During the Internship, Eric has enjoyed learning about a variety of drinking water systems in Manitoulin’s other six First Nations communities, as well as gaining more in-depth knowledge about water quality testing.

Lawrence Mameanskum

Naskapi Nation
“I started working with Water First because I want to gain more knowledge about restoration and water quality analysis,” shares Lawrence.

Lawrence is a Water First Environmental Intern from Kawawachikamach. He has been working on water quality and restoration projects for Naskapi Nation in partnership with Water First. Last summer he was involved in fish populations assessments in Attikamagen Lake. “This lake is very important to my community as it is part of our traditional fishing and hunting territory.”

Lawrence is a Canadian Ranger taking on rescues in the north. He is trained and knowledgeable about the land, which has been helpful for the team. He has a love for fishing and this past winter was asked to hunt caribou for the community.

Lawrence is interested in balancing traditional knowledge with western science and conservation. “ I liked using the scientific equipment and enjoyed learning new techniques during my first field season with Water First.” With the teachings from his grandfather, he is able to bridge both worlds for his community. “I hope I can share my experiences and knowledge with the younger generation and teach them about the restoration and conservation of our land.”

McKaylii Jawbone

Kebaowek First Nation
McKaylii has a diploma from the Environmental Technology program. She read about Water First’s fish habitat restoration project in the Kebaowek newsletter during her last semester at Canadore college.

With her passion for Environmental Stewardship, she spearheaded a community celebration event where community members met everyone involved in the project, and the interns shared their knowledge and success stories about the restoration work they are proud of.

“Not only did we want to make a difference in the Kipawa Lake fishery, but we also wanted to learn about our land and all the ways we can help preserve the ecosystem; and through this project we were able to accomplish that and much more.”

Mckaylii believes that Water First’s approach of hiring and training locally is important. She says that the knowledge and experience she gained during the restoration project has helped her understand what it takes to run a project like this, and has made her better at her job in the Land Management office. She hopes to help with future restoration work and to keep other restoration projects going in the community.

Cassidy Beaudin

M'Chigeeng First Nation
An avid outdoorsman, Cassidy Beaudin is keen to turn his Water First Internship experience into a job as a treatment plant operator.

“Water is the key to life, I’ve always known how important it is,” he said. “And I really like being part of making clean water.”

After graduating high school last year, Cassidy completed one semester of the Environmental Technician program at Canadore College, but found the course wasn’t exactly what he was looking for. He returned to the Island, spent some time working construction, and applied to the Water First Internship as soon as he found out about it.

“It’s a good career,” he said. “My uncle is a water treatment plant operator in North Bay.”

Cassidy has taken to the everyday tasks that are part of the job, from sampling to tapping into water lines to cleaning out holding tanks, and he sees a future for himself in the field.

Cassidy obtained his Operator-In-Training certification for both water and wastewater treatment as well as his Water Quality Analyst through the Internship.

Amy Waboose

Whitefish River First Nation
“A lot of people are oblivious about the water,” says Amy Waboose. “But for our culture, water is life. It’s important, and I try to teach my son the same.”

Amy is now working full time at the Whitefish River First Nation Water Treatment plant as an Operator-in-Training and Water Quality Analyst. She also maintains her strong connection to water by sitting as a youth representative on the Whitefish River Source Water Protection Committee.

Paige Manitowabi

Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory
Paige is excited to take what she’s learning as a Water First intern and combine it with her growing interest in traditional Anishinaabe ways. That mix of knowledge, she thinks, could be the key to solving a lot of issues. “It’s new knowledge – I’m learning a lot,” she said of the water quality training.

Paige is currently working as the environmental field technician at Wahnapitae First Nation. She is also attending Laurentian University part time, pursuing a degree in Restoration Ecology.

Alex Nahwegahbow

Whitefish River First Nation
Alex Nahwegahbow obtained is Operator-In-Training certification and Water Quality Analyst certification, two goals that he set out at the start the internship. “This is a great opportunity,” he said. “I like this work, and it’s a good job to get into.”

Armed with his OIT, WQA, and the knowledge and experience gained during the Internship, Alex is currently working as an OIT for the Ontario Clean Water Agency in Espanola ON.

Kacie McLaren

Kebaowek First Nation
Kacie is an Algonquin from Kebaowek First Nation. She has an Environmental Technician diploma from Canadore college. She heard about the fish habitat restoration project from her dad, and decided to apply because as an environmentalist she is passionate about protecting mother nature.

“The earth is what brings everyone together, it keeps us connected. We will not have a society if we continue to destroy the environment. We are a part of the earth, and the earth is a part of us.”

Kacie enjoyed working on the restoration project because she was able to implement the theory and tools that she learned in school, while learning about walleye habitat and how to restore and protect it.

She said that the knowledge gained has helped her understand the impact road construction and other forestry activities can have on the watershed and water quality.

In the future, Kacie wants to engage with community members to bring awareness and show that the youth care. Youth want to fix the damage from the past and make the Land start healing again.

“It is extremely important for me to protect our traditional rights and lands. There was a time when we didn’t need all of these resources to survive. I know that times have drastically changed, but I am a firm believer that we can live in balance with contemporary times.”

Chelsea Debassige

Zhiibaahaasing First Nation
The Water First Internship has given Chelsea a chance to work in her home community (the most remote on Manitoulin Island).

Chelsea is currently the project coordinator for Swim Drink Fish Canada in her home community, a position she wouldn’t have been able to obtain without the experience she gained during the internship. For that reason, she believes the Water First Internship model will transfer well to other First Nations communities, especially those even more remote than Zhiibaahaasing.

Alex Cartagena

Sheshegwaning First Nation
For Alex, the Water First Internship is a ticket out of chronic underemployment and unemployment, he hopes, and it’s work that he likes. “I enjoy learning formulas, and how to use equipment,” he said.

Alex has obtained his Water Quality Analyst and his Operator-In-Training, he is currently working part time at the Sheshegwaning water treatment plant.