Next Generation of Indigenous Water Treatment Workers Are Finding Solutions Through Training in Water Trades and Sciences
The Bimose Tribal Council in northwestern Ontario and Canadian charity Water First Education & Training Inc. 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.
Funded by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), the Bimose Tribal Council received approval for the first six months of the full 18-month project. With full ISC funding, each intern will accumulate 1,800 hours of on-the-job experience in water treatment plants, which is a requirement for them to become level-one operators. Through the 18-month program, interns will also pursue their water quality analyst certification, which can lead to work in both water treatment and the environmental water field.
“Regardless of whether this is an intern’s first job, or their previous job was at the local gas station, this training program is designed to support and empower young Indigenous adults to become certified drinking water operators and environmental water professionals,” Water First’s executive director John Millar said.
Phil Tangie of the Bimose Tribal Council said, “Bimose’s communities appreciate the emphasis on training young people. Staff at the water treatment plants are doing a great job with the resources they have, but we need more young people entering the water field. By partnering with Water First and the internship program, we’re able to address this challenge directly. It’s going really well so far, and we hope funding for the program will continue.”
The Bimose project began in February 2020, on the heels of a successful pilot project between Water First and seven First Nations on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Together with the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising, Wiikwemkoong First Nation, and Anishinabek Nation, the partners trained ten young Indigenous adults in drinking water and environmental water management. Within weeks of graduating, eight out of ten interns secured work in their local water treatment plants or in the environmental water field; one graduate pursued further water studies at college.
Amy Waboose, from Whitefish River First Nation, is a graduate of the Water First internship program and now works at her local water treatment plant. “I came here for a job and ended with a career,” said Amy. “This training program changed my life and if the next group of interns works hard and sticks with it, it could change their lives too,” she added. Amy and her co-graduate, Paige Manitowabi from Wiikwemkoong First Nation, attended the first day of training with the new group of interns in Kenora and assured the students that they have been in their shoes before, and with some support and determination, they too can succeed at becoming water professionals.
Many First Nations with drinking water challenges have identified the need for more young, qualified and local personnel to support solving water issues independently and for the longer term. Indigenous communities do not receive adequate education, training and employment supports when it comes to attracting and retaining young people in the water science fields. These supports are critical in ensuring the long-term sustainability of Indigenous drinking water systems.