Toronto, September 6th, 2016 — Seven years after its birth as a nonprofit providing clean water to remote schoolhouses in rural Uganda, Tin Roof Global has changed its name to Water First, reflecting its growing commitment to working with First Nations communities solving water challenges here in Canada.
“After starting Tin Roof to address a Ugandan issue, I began to be asked about water in this country,” said John Millar, founder and executive director of the Creemorebased NGO. “People pointed out that you don’t have to travel across an ocean to find a water crisis, you can just drive up the 400.”
In early 2013, Tin Roof Global began working with Shawanaga First Nation on a water project. Its wells dry, Shawanaga had been trucking in water from neighbouring Parry Sound for six years. Tin Roof, a small organization at the time, formed a threeway partnership with the First Nation and Murray Richardson, a professor and hydrologist at Carleton University, to secure Health Canada Funding for the work.
The project: Train two young adults from Shawanaga on water sampling techniques so that the First Nation could find a surface water source, in a river or lake nearby, for its future water treatment plant. The water underground had seemingly dried up. Additional wells had been drilled to no avail. The only alternative was to turn to surface water.
The funding application submitted by Tin Roof, Richardson and Shawanaga First Nation was ranked first place in a competitive national funding round. How did a small nonprofit, a marginalized First Nation and a junior professor accomplish such a feat?
“Believing that the ability to solve the problem was in the First Nation was key,” said Millar. Instead of hiring outsiders to come and test the water, they hired and trained locally. One of the two local youth went on to work in the field of water science, most recently as a hydrogeological assistant for an MTOfunded project near Shawanaga First Nation. A participant in Tin Roof’s second project at Temagami First Nation applied to a water treatment plant operators program.
“These young people are the future,” said Millar. “Indigenous youth are dramatically underrepresented in the sciences. By increasing the understanding of water in First Nations youth, we can help them become interested to learn more and develop skills that are essential to solving the myriad of water challenges faced by their communities.”
Water education and training programs in First Nations communities have never been more important. It’s welldocumented that approximately one in five First Nations in Canada are under a boil water advisory, with stories of broken equipment and insufficient local expertise to operate and maintain treatment plants all too common.
Three and a half years after its first project in Shawanaga, Tin Roof has developed collaborative relationships with over 25 First Nations in Ontario and Quebec. The organization’s First Nations water initiatives now account for 85 per cent of its program activities.
Failing water treatment plants can surely be fixed, but without an investment in education and training they’ll need to be fixed again. The Water First program increases water science skills locally so that First Nations communities can solve their water problems themselves, now and in the future.
“It’s about more than just drinking water, it’s about community independence and sustainability,” said Millar. “Increased knowledge about water science can lead to communities that are healthier and more independent. You can’t have autonomy or a good quality of life if you don’t have your own safe, clean drinking water.”
Back in 2013, Tin Roof’s fledgling First Nations program was called Water First. On September 6, 2016, Tin Roof Global is officially changing its name to Water First Education and Training, to better reflect the overwhelming First Nations emphasis of its water initiatives. The organization is working with its nonprofit partners in Uganda to hand over its operations abroad, in order to fully focus on the important work that needs to be done right here at home. With 20 percent of First Nations communities in Canada under a boil water advisory, there’s much to be done, and the time is now.
For further comment, please contact:
John Millar, Founder & Executive Director