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From Connection to Community – Jacey’s Path to Water First

From Connection to Community – Jacey’s Path to Water First

  • 6 min read

Legend of the Blackfoot Iniskim (Buffalo Stone)

Long ago, the Blackfoot People lived in tipis and were nomadic. They followed the Inni “Buffalo” as their primary source for food, clothing and shelter. During a time when the buffalo became scarce, the Blackfoot People suffered a great famine. The Iniskim “Buffalo Stone” presented itself to a young Blackfoot woman and told her to use it and its songs in ceremony, promising in doing this that the Buffalo would return. The woman took the Buffalo Stone back to her camp and provided it to the old people who made ceremony with it and sang its song. This powerful stone called the Buffalo back to the Blackfoot people thus saving them from starvation.

The Buffalo Stone is considered sacred to the Blackfoot people, given to them by the Creator to bring assistance, luck and prosperity so as to never be without.

– Desmond Jackson, owner and founder of Buffalo Stone Clothing Co.

Sometimes, the most rewarding relationships emerge from unexpected connections. Take this story from Jacey Bonertz, a Technical Trainer & Project Coordinator with Water First.

Here, Jacey talks about how she came to work with Water First, and how she's able to do meaningful work that gives back to the community. And it all started with a chance encounter on Instagram.

It was my last semester of Chemical Engineering at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation, but I was confident that I wanted to work in water. I also had aspirations to work with Indigenous youth. 

Checking Instagram one day, I saw some relatives posting about Buffalo Stone Clothing Co. and how the company donating some of their profits to support an organization called Water First. I was intrigued. I loved what Buffalo Stone Clothing Co. was doing as an Indigenous-owned business (plus Desmond, the owner, is from my community, the Piikani Nation!), so I decided to learn more about Water First.

After looking into the organization a bit more, I saw that their values aligned with my own, and combined my interests in working with water and with Indigenous youth! I was excited, and reached out to them to get a better sense of what they did and what path I would need to take to do similar work in the future. I connected with Jag Saini, Water First’s Project Manager & Instructor. He told me that Water First was hiring soon and I should apply. I did – and I got the job!

After landing the job, I decided to purchase a couple of items from Buffalo Stone Clothing Co. as a silent “thank you” for the connection to Water First. I ended up having a conversation with Desmond, the owner and founder of the company, and explained to him how his brand introduced me to Water First.

This is Desmond's personal Tipi. It's the Buffalo Stone Tipi.

Buffalo Stone Clothing Co.

“Like all things in life, Buffalo Stone Clothing Co. also has a creation story. Buffalo Stone Clothing Co. was created after many conversations had about all the negativity and division we were seeing in the world. We were tired of feeling helpless, so we began thinking of ways we could take action in a meaningful way. We knew we wanted to focus on supporting, empowering and advocating for marginalized Indigenous people as this has always been something important to both of us. Soon after, Buffalo Stone Clothing Co. was established.”

– Desmond Jackson, owner and founder of Buffalo Stone Clothing Co.

Since starting with Water First, I’ve supported and led workshops and tutorials for the young Indigenous adults training in the Drinking Water Internship Program. I’ve assisted in designing and developing content for workshops, supporting the Alumni Network for graduates, and creating spaces within the organization for staff at Water First to connect and enable reciprocal learning.

As an Indigenous woman in engineering, I have had to overcome barriers to establish myself in this field. I would not be where I am today without the support of my community, the Piikani Nation, and I am mindful of how that support allowed me to get to where I am today. It is of utmost importance to me that I honour this and advocate for Indigenous communities through my work. There is an underrepresentation of women in STEM, let alone Indigenous women, and I want nothing more than the opportunity to be the role model I would have liked to have when I started working in this field.

The skills I’ve gained through my previous engineering internship experiences are invaluable, but I have always known there was more I wanted to accomplish through my work. Breaking down stereotypes and increasing awareness for Indigenous issues has always been a priority to me, but I knew I eventually wanted to find work with an organization that puts the needs of the community first and maintains sustainable and environmentally-conscious work practices. And I think I’ve found that with Water First.

The story of my path to Water First highlights how good things happen when you support people doing meaningful work in the world. Not only did I get a job where I can put my unique gifts to good use, but I also have the opportunity to give back to the Indigenous community and support the good work of others from Piikani Nation. Thanks to Buffalo Stone Clothing Co. and others who believe in our work, Water First can continue to collaborate with more communities to support access to safe, clean water for everyone.

Giving Back

“We leave it in Creator’s hands, and he’ll never deal us a hand we can’t play.

I was fortunate enough to be transferred an actual buffalo stone and the buffalo stone tipi when I was going through personal tribulations, and now everything has been working out for me. So I am using it’s power to help all Indigenous people by donating to Water First.”

– Desmond Jackson, owner and founder of Buffalo Stone Clothing Co.

For every piece of Buffalo Stone Clothing Co. apparel or merchandise sold, 10% will be donated to Water First. Water First is a Canadian charitable organization dedicated to working with Indigenous communities across Canada. Water First focuses on both drinking water and environmental water concerns, as well as Water Science education for youth.