Water First staff and environmental intern, Kacie MacLaren testing water in Kebaowek First Nation.

Healthy Water, Healthy Communities

Working alongside communities to restore the health of local freshwater ecosystems and fisheries directly impacts community health. Water First collaborates with communities to use both western water science and traditional ecological knowledge to steward and protect local water health.

Water First’s fish habitat restoration work focuses on rebuilding and improving fish spawning grounds of local fish species that have been damaged due to human activity or eroded over time. By improving spawning sites, this habitat restoration work aims to improve fish populations for future generations.

Water First’s environmental restoration projects address various areas of concern including stabilize banks and reducing erosion caused by changing waterways, water quality testing and metrics, training communities with the use of water testing equipment, and providing communities with information about their potential exposure to contaminants. These studies also provide a baseline to track the effects of industrial activities on their traditional territories.

Intergenerational Connections

Water First works with Indigenous communities to complete environmental water projects restoring areas of local significance and testing water for possible contaminants. The community is involved throughout the entire process. Through consultations with Elders and those who understand local waterways, our projects address community priorities and restore the health of water bodies on traditional territories.

Across our programs, we hire and train locally to ensure the knowledge and experiences remain in the community. Our interns are primarily young Indigenous adults who are involved with everything from site assessment, to sourcing local materials, to completing the restoration work and ongoing monitoring. They work alongside an Indigenous mentor, who brings knowledge of the land and waterways.

  • Esri Canada is honoured to partner with Water First. Environmental sustainability is crucial for Esri and we’re pleased that our software will help Water First carry out their current conservation work and help future First Nation generations manage their water resources.

    Bryan Minhinnett, Esri Canada

Working together with mentors allows our interns to connect to community leaders. The interns learn traditional indicators of water and environmental quality that parallel the scientific methods they are also taught throughout the program. This intergenerational connection comes full-circle as interns and mentors deliver water science workshops at local schools and share the knowledge gained with their community.

Inspiring community stewardship

In the coming year, Water First is redesigning our program to expand our work. This means a greater focus on working with First Nations communities to understand their concerns and priorities for environmental projects.

Involving community members in every step of the project from design, to execution, to evaluation, develops a strong sense of community stewardship for natural resources.

Stewardship also comes from strong connections within the community. Our environmental projects foster intergenerational learning between Elders, young adults and school children to integrate traditional knowledge with western science in the water and on the land.


Check out this video that explains a bit more about our fish habitat restoration projects.

The Communities

Click on an icon to learn a bit about our work in that community.

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Fish Habitat Restoration Project
Community members participate in assessment, planning and restoration phases of a fish habitat restoration project, in partnership with experts in biology and hydrology. Elder consultations are key to identifying historically active fish habitat and restoration sites. Local youth receive training to implement the project with expert guidance.
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Watershed Restoration Project
Community members participate in assessment, planning and implementation of erosion control activities to improve water quality in the local watershed. Local youth receive training to implement the project with expert guidance.
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Baseline Water Quality Study
Youth and young adults sample water at various sites identified by the community, testing for contaminants that affect drinking water and environmental water quality. The data collected belongs to the First Nation and helps guard against future water quality impacts.
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Contaminant of Concern Study
Water and fish samples are collected from lakes identified by the First Nation and analyzed in labs for water quality and mercury levels. Local fishers catch the fish and are trained in water and fish sampling techniques for analysis. The data is owned by the community and the results are clearly presented to community members.
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Technical Skills Training
Community members and band office staff receive technical training to ensure water science skills are retained locally.