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Celebrating the next generation of Indigenous water treatment plant operators looking to inspire others

  • 6 min read

Internship graduates bring technical skills and capacity to critical water issues

Sault Ste. Marie, ON, September 26, 2023 – Graduation often marks the end of a journey. For the Indigenous youth and community members who recently completed a training program to become certified water treatment plant operators, graduation is just the beginning.

“Our time and weeks of training together will always have a spot in my heart. On graduation day, too, we look outside for inspiration to drive us forwards, but I see that inspiration right here among us,” shared valedictorian Nigel Debassige, from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation. 

Last Friday, September 22, Mamaweswen, The North Shore Tribal Council and Water First Education & Training Inc. celebrated Debassige and the 11 interns who graduated from the 15-month Drinking Water Internship program for local Indigenous youth and young adults.

Valedictorian Nigel Debassige, from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, delivering a proud, heartwarming speech to an audience of fellow graduates, family members, Water First and Tribal Council staff, and other graduation attendees.

Mamaweswen, The North Shore Tribal Council looks for partnerships that will enhance the communities to the highest standards possible,” said Allan Moffatt, CEO of Mamaweswen, The North Shore Tribal Council. “The Water First Internship program was a ‘win-win-win opportunity.’ First Nations obtain Water Plant Operators; Tribal Council involvement with a proven training program for youth and water departments; Water First further develops their Programming with our communities. Clean, safe, potable drinking water is a fundamental need in our communities, the success of this program has enhanced our community’s capacity to meet future demand. Congratulations to our Interns who worked hard to achieve their certifications in the water industry, we are proud of your accomplishments.”

Sustainable access to safe, clean water in Indigenous communities in Canada continues to be a critical issue. The graduates completed the paid training program to obtain entry-level certifications required to begin their careers in water treatment. As qualified, local personnel, they bring technical skills and capacity to communities to ensure access to safe, clean drinking water for the long term.

Over the course of the program, each intern accumulated 1,800 hours of on-the-job experience in water treatment plants, which is a part of the water operator in training (OIT) certification process. Interns also pursued additional water operator certification exams including water quality analyst and the entry-level course for drinking water operators, as well as other technical training like GIS and water sampling which can lead to work in water treatment and the environmental water field.

In late September 2022, the interns, including Nigel Debassige, got out on the land for a fun and experiential week learning about lakes, rivers and streams.⁠

Following graduation, interns join the Water First Alumni Network to stay engaged, build local networks and access opportunities for ongoing professional development and peer support.

“It’s been a pleasure seeing their confidence grow throughout the past 15 months,” said Kendra Driscoll, Senior Manager of the Drinking Water Internship at Water First. “With training and mentorship by our staff, the tribal council, and dedicated community water operators, the interns have had the opportunity to build critical skills needed to be successful water treatment plant operators. I wish them all the best for the future, and look forward to seeing them as part of the alumni network.”

The North Shore Tribal Council Drinking Water Internship Program began in June 2022, and marks the fourth successful internship program completed to date. The program was funded through the North Shore Tribal Council member First Nations employment and training program, together with the support of Water First’s donors. A fifth internship program is underway with Ogemawahj Tribal Council, and another internship is soon to be launched for the first time in Manitoba.  

Water First has collaborated with 37 First Nations communities through the Drinking Water Internship, where interns have worked approximately 98,000 hours in their local water plants. To date, 46 interns have graduated from the program.

Debassige went on to share, “In the last 15 months here with Water First, I’ve seen that we don’t have to look too far for inspiration and that we each have the potential to make that inspiring contribution to others. When you leave here today, celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but look forward with an eye towards how you too can be that inspiration to others.”

Group photo of drinking water graduates, Water First staff, and Tribal Council staff together. Graduation ceremony, September 2023.

In Canada, 14% of First Nations communities are affected by a drinking water advisory; in Ontario, it’s 25%. The challenges are complex and layered. Communities may face issues relating to infrastructure, source water quality, or having enough trained people to manage water systems – or more than one of these issues at a time. Water First works with Indigenous communities that have identified education and training as part of their solution to the water crisis. Safe water needs skilled people. 

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About Mamaweswen, The North Shore Tribal Council:
NSTC’s mandate is to assist and facilitate the activities of the member communities of the North Shore Tribal Council. In a manner that promotes the cultural, spiritual, political, economic, environmental and social well being of the member First Nations, the Tribal Council acts to serve three primary functions: 

  • Research, develop and deliver regionally based products and services to member communities when directed by NSTC member communities
  • Provide advisory services to member communities
  • Provide collective political support to advance the betterment of First Nations people

Learn more at:  https://mamaweswen.com

About Water First Education & Training Inc. (Water First):
Water First is a registered Canadian charity that works alongside Indigenous communities to address water challenges through education, training and meaningful collaboration. Since 2009, Water First has collaborated with over 80 Indigenous communities located in the lands now known as Canada while supporting Indigenous youth and young adults to pursue careers in water science. Learn more: www.waterfirst.ngo

For more information, please contact:

Ami Gopal
Director of Development and Communications
Water First
1-800-970-8467 ext. 106
ami.gopal@waterfirst.ngo

Allan Moffatt 
Chief Executive Officer
Mamaweswen, The North Shore Tribal Council
1-877-633-7558
allanm@mamaweswen.ca

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