An effective solution to a long-standing problem

Access to clean, safe drinking water. It is easy to take this for granted — yet, this is not the reality for everyone in Canada.

In many First Nations communities, the issue of boil water advisories has a clear association with the shortage of certified people to work in local water treatment plants. Indigenous communities do not receive comparable education, training and employment supports when it comes to water science and management compared to the rest of the country. These supports are critical in ensuring the long-term sustainability of Indigenous water systems.

The Water First Internship was born from community feedback, guidance and partners coming together with a focus on training and education to create local solutions. The Internship trains primarily young, local Indigenous adults to become certified water treatment plant operators and to work within the environmental water field. Over the course of a 15-month paid internship opportunity, participants receive customized skills training and tutoring to obtain certification, along with on-the-job experience in their local water plants.

The ultimate goal of the Water First Internship is importantly linked to the crisis of boil water advisories in First Nations communities across Canada.

Water First’s Internship Program, in collaboration with First Nations communities, is a part of this solution, offering meaningful outcomes to this ongoing challenge.


This is just the beginning

In response to the need to increase the number of fully trained water treatment operators, to prepare for the projected retirement of many current operators in the next five years, and to support more gender diversity in the field, the Internship Program has the opportunity to play a role in meaningfully shifting the challenges of access to clean drinking water in many communities.

  • I am grateful for everything water does.

    Eric Vautour, Internship Graduate

Over the next five years, Water First will be scaling up the Internship Program to reach an additional 75 First Nations communities — responding to the priorities of different communities across Ontario. We will continue to adapt the program to best address local drinking water concerns.

Latest News

Alumni Update

Since graduating, the Interns have been meeting regularly to stay connected, to improve the program, and to pave the way for future interns. They recognize what a powerful experience they have had and want to support future cohorts to be even more successful.

Water First has recently implemented a Professional … Read More

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Internship program profiled in Water Canada magazine

The Water First Internship Program was featured in the January/February 2019 edition of Water Canada, a publication dedicated to covering a range of Canadian water issues. This edition of the magazine focused specifically on issues impacting Indigenous communities, as well as the work of individuals, communities and organizations addressing … Read More

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Water First Internship Highlighted as Innovative Initiative in Government of Canada Sustainable Development Report

In October 2018, Environment and Climate Change Canada released a report detailing the Government of Canada’s efforts in realizing the 13 aspirational goals set out in its 2016 to 2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.

For each goal, the report sets out why each goal is important, overall progress made towards … Read More

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“I came here for a job, and ended here with a career.”

Amy Waboose, internship graduate

Watch our new video to learn more about how the Internship is providing a solution for clean water in First Nations communities.

The Interns

  • Alex Cartagena, Sheshegwaning First Nation

    Alex Cartagena has worked a lot of jobs since high school – in carpentry, in forestry, and at the quarry. When that last job at the quarry ended due to a shutdown, he found himself unemployed, with two children and bills to pay.

    The Water First Internship is a ticket … Read More

  • 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.”

    Alex completed one year of a Police Foundations diploma … Read More

  • 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 … Read More

  • 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 … Read More

  • Chelsea Antoine Debassige, Zhiibaahaasing First Nation

    When Chelsea Antoine Debassige first heard about the Water First Internship and the training it provides, she thought, “What on earth is a water quality analyst?”

    The Water First Internship has given Chelsea a chance to work in her home community (the most remote on Manitoulin Island). Chelsea is currently … Read More

  • Dallas Goodfellow, Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation

    Dallas Goodfellow was born in Sault Ste. Marie, and moved to Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) when he was in Grade 3. He had a job at the AOK water treatment plant while he was in high school, and has worked since high school at a local fish farm.

    The Water … Read More

  • Naomi Mandamin, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory

    Naomi Mandamin 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’s also been fascinated with science for as long as she can remember. “I’ve always wanted to … Read More

  • Paige Manitowabi, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory

    Paige Manitowabi 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 … Read More

  • Eric Vautour, Sheguiandah First Nation

    A young man with an activist’s heart, Eric Vautour has been involved with water and environmental issues since high school. As a teenager he worked on Sheguiandah’s Green Plan Project, a program that engaged youth in environmental actions like shoreline cleanups. Following high school, he did a contract as a … Read More

  • Chris Wemigwans, Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation

    Chris Wemigwans 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.

    Born … Read More

Donor Profile

RBC Foundation

Launching Futures

RBC is striving to address the ‘no experience-no job, no job-no experience’ cycle affecting the current and the next generation of workers, and is why we’re excited to support the Water First Internship.

This empowering program provides Indigenous youth with critical skills development and hands-on experience helping them to gain access to meaningful employment, to help their communities prosper and to improve local economies.

Young people are entering the workforce at a time of profound economic, social and technological change requiring a new mix of skills and it is through innovative programs like this that our future leaders will be prepared to succeed and thrive.

Water First is excited to work with our donors like RBC, to scale up the Internship Program to reach even more partner communities.

The Communities

Click on an icon to learn a bit about the intern(s) in that community

The 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 … Read More

  • 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 … Read More

  • 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.… Read More

Support the next generation of water keepers.