Who We Are

At every step, highly qualified and dedicated professionals are involved in our operations. Click an individual for a brief biography.

 

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First Nations Advisory Council

  • Bill Assinewai

  • 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.

  • Sue Chiblow (Ogamauh annag qwe), B.Sc., MEM

  • 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 PhD 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 Colburn

  • Jean Marie Colburn 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.

  • Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, CM

  • 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.

  • Deborah McGregor, B.Sc., MES, Ph.D.

  • Professor Deborah McGregor is from Whitefish River First Nation. She joined York University’s Osgoode Hall law faculty in 2015 as a cross-appointee with the Faculty of Environmental Studies. Professor McGregor’s research has focused on Indigenous knowledge systems and their various applications in diverse contexts including water and environmental governance, environmental justice, forest policy and management, and sustainable development.

  • Murray McGregor

  • Murray McGregor is the Public Works Manager in his home community of Whitefish River First
    Nation. As the Public Works Manager, Murray and his team provide essential services that allow
    the public to live and thrive in their community. Murray has worked on various initiatives
    including the construction of the Water Treatment Plant, Low Lift Station, and Water Tower,
    among many others. Murray 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.  Murray continues to foster capacity building within the community and
    takes pride in how the community develops and grows.

  • James Simon Mishibinijima

  • 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.

  • Ray Moreau

  • Ray Moreau is the Infrastructure Specialist for United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM). Ray is from Michipicoten First Nation and lives on Manitoulin Island where he delivers technical services to UCCMM member communities. Ray was an integral part of the first Water First Internship on Manitoulin Island.

Staff

  • John Millar, B.A., M.A.

    Executive Director & Founder

  • 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

  • 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 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. Kendra has a passion for water protection through science education.

  • Jag Saini, B.Eng., E.I.T., O.I.T.

    Project Manager & Instructor

  • 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. Ed., OCT

    Educational Programs Manager

  • Dillon holds Bachelor degrees in Geography and Education and has significant teaching experience in the junior, intermediate and senior divisions. He is also engaged as a teacher facilitator in several youth leadership courses, including Indigenous Leadership Gatherings, at the Ontario Educational Leadership Centre. Dillon is of Potawatomi descent with ancestral roots from the Parry Sound area.

  • Ami Gopal

    Director of Development

  • Ami has over 15 years experience and a proven track record in fundraising, resource development and marketing. She is excited to nurture relationships with Water First donors and develop customized strategies to meet their needs.

  • Carli Lang, Ph.D.

    Scientific Director

  • Carli’s Ph.D. research in parasitology brought a community-based water sampling program to rural Panama, for 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.

  • Jesse Wright, MES

    Fish Habitat Project Coordinator

  • 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.

  • Ted Stableforth, M.Ed., B.PHE.

    School Outreach

  • Ted was a Principal in the Simcoe District School Board for 10 years and a teacher for 25 years. Ted brings to Water First a wealth of educational and and administrative experience and a passion for educational program development and school outreach.

  • Brenda Lapell

    Digital Communications Manager

  • 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

  • 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

    Accounting

  • Kristen runs her own bookkeeping 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 utilize accounting reports and streamlining organization.

  • Gayle Dennison

    Human Resources

  • With an extensive management and executive career in both public and private sector covering all aspects of Human Resources, enjoys the challenge and reward of bringing that experience to support and develop human capital within growing and dynamic organizations.

  • Ryan Osman

    Water Resources Specialist

  • Ryan holds a Bachelor’s degree in an Environmental Engineering and a Master’s degree in Water Resources Engineering from the University of Guelph. Ryan’s professional background includes work in the water resources department at the Hamilton Conservation Authority, research in hydrogeology and climate change, and was a teaching assistant at the University of Guelph. He also has experience in visual communication, has generated visual content for the organization Waterlution and his photography work has been published internationally.

  • Ashley Doucette

    Office Assistant

  • 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.

  • Olga Kalomiris, Hon.B.A., B.Ed.

    Outreach Instructor

  • Olga is an Ontario-certified teacher in the junior, intermediate and senior divisions, specializing in Geography, the Social Sciences, and Health and Physical Education. As an Outreach Instructor with Water First, Olga is committed to engaging and empowering youth, while raising awareness about First Nations water challenges.

  • Simone Butters

    Outreach Instructor

  • Simone is an Ontario Certified Teacher (qualified to work in the primary, junior and intermediate divisions), and an environmentally conscious citizen with a passion for social justice. While her specialization is in Science and Languages, she has also taught Geography. As an Outreach Instructor at Water First, Simone aims to positively influence change in society by educating young people with a hands-on approach about real-world First Nations water challenges in connection with water science.

  • Adrianna Bilinski, B. Ed., B.A.

    Outreach Instructor

  • Adrianna is an Ontario Certified Teacher, and a woman of Ojibwe decent front Beausoleil First Nation. She holds her 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.

Volunteer Board Members

  • Gary Pritchard

    Director

  • 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.

  • Leah Hagreen, B.Sc.

    Director

  • 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.

  • Ian Heaps

    Director

  • 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.

  • Sue Chiblow (Ogamauh annag qwe), B.Sc., MEM

    Director

  • 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 PhD 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.

  • Teza Lawrence, B.A.H.

    Director

  • 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.

  • Eric King, M.S.W., R.S.W.

    Director

  • A recognized leader in adolescent mental health therapy, Eric is Director of family programs at the Pine River Institute, a therapeutic boarding school. Eric also runs a private practice and he teaches at the University of Toronto in the Department of Child Psychiatry and the Faculty of Social Work.

  • Heather Murphy, Ph.D.

    Director

  • Heather specializes in water treatment engineering at Temple University. Previously, she was a research fellow with the Canadian Public Health Agency and also worked with UNICEF managing large-scale projects bringing water and sanitation resources to over 1000 communities in the developing world.

  • Edward H. Kernaghan, M.Sc.

    Director

  • 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.

Volunteer Advisors

  • Murray Richardson, Ph.D.

    Advisor

  • 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.

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

    Water Treatment Engineer

  • Jonathan was an engineering professor at the University of Guelph before he joined Water First to address First Nations water challenges. He has extensive experience related to civil and mechanical engineering, humanitarian engineering, and instructional and training program design.

  • Craig Johnson, Ph.D.

    Advisor

  • An Associate Professor of International Development & Political Science at the University of Guelph, Craig’s research and field work has been conducted with the Canadian, UK and Swiss International Development Agencies on numerous aid projects.

  • Jim MacPherson, LL.B.

    Advisor

  • Before joining Water First, Jim practiced commercial law in Toronto from 1972 until his retirement in 2010. Jim’s previous community volunteerism has spanned a variety of roles, such as President of the University of Toronto Schools Parent Association, President of the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce; Chairman of Lawyers Associated Worldwide; and Chairman of the Purple Hills Arts & Heritage Society.

  • Jackie Pye, B.Sc., M.Ed.

    Advisor

  • Jackie has been a teacher and guidance counsellor for 20 years and currently works as a consultant designing educational programs and curriculum. She has degrees in Biology, Physical and Health Education, and graduate degrees in Education and Environmental Studies. Jackie has written for Ontario Ecoschools, and is currently developing secondary curriculum with the Katavik School Board and Inspire Nunavut; She’s also developing an Arctic focussed climate change curriculum in collaboration with Darkspace.

  • Bob Rae

    Advisor

  • 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.

Operations Volunteers

  • Michael L’Ecuyer, B. Des.

    Designer & Developer

  • In 2010, Michael joined forces with his artist & illustrator wife in order to create coloveration, an art and design company. Together, they cover the gamut of needs, both personal and professional for individuals, companies and not for profits locally, provincially and internationally. Michael’s main focus is editorial, web and identity design and development.

  • Ruth Ann Pearce, B.F.A.

    Illustrator

  • In 2010, Ruth Ann joined forces with her graphic designer & developer husband in order to create coloveration, an art and design company. Together, they cover the gamut of needs, both personal and professional for individuals, companies and not for profits locally, provincially and internationally.

    Ruth Ann and coloveration reside in the valley of Dunedin, Ontario inspired by the character of the land and its inhabitants.

  • Brad Holden, Hon.B.A., B.Ed.

    Education Design and Tech Support

  • Brad’s experience and Bachelor degrees in Geography & Education allow him to bring a wealth of knowledge to classrooms. Brad spent a decade working as a community journalist and has experience teaching outdoor education.

  • Ellen Field, Ph.D.

    Lead Instructional Designer

  • Ellen’s Ph.D. is in Education with an emphasis on environmental learning; she is also trained as an intermediate and senior high school teacher in Environmental Science and Outdoor Experiential Education. Ellen has worked as an educational consultant with numerous environmental NGOs in Ontario and she currently balances working at Water First, alongside facilitating professional development for teachers, and as an instructor in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University.