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Indigenous Schools Water Program

Indigenous Schools Water Program

Indigenous Schools Water Program

  • 8 min read

Hands-on learning to foster a
passion for water science

Indigenous Schools Water Program   |   Winter 2023

Inspiring future water scientists with hands-on learning

Through the Indigenous Schools Water Program, Water First delivers engaging, hands-on, STEM-based water science programs to schools in Indigenous communities. These programs create opportunities for students to strengthen their understanding and relationship with the environment, and to foster a love of water science.

Water First is honoured to have engaged with schools in 6 provinces and territories so far. We’re delighted to share an update on what the Schools Program has been up to over the past year.

Connecting students with local water operators

When students interact with water treatment plant operators from within their own community, they get to see people they know involved with water science. This helps them appreciate the work that goes into ensuring access to safe, clean water. We strive to facilitate these connections in most communities where we deliver programming. By seeing community members working to provide clean water, students deepen their connections to the content in the workshops, and can even see themselves in a similar position someday.  Students also learn about the role they can play as emerging scientists in protecting their water resources. Here are just two examples from 2022: the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach and Dokis First Nation.

Last spring, staff from the Schools Programs team were in the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach to work with high school students from Jimmy Sandy Memorial School. Students participated in some fun hands-on activities to explore the theme of water quality and water stewardship. One highlight of the session was a visit to the community drinking water treatment plant. The students got a guided tour by the plant operator and learned about the system of pumps and filters that purify their water.

In Dokis First Nation last year, students at Kikendawt Kinoomaadii Gamig also got to visit their local water treatment plant. While they were there, the students met Louise, the plant operator, and two interns from the Drinking Water Internship program, Kennedy Dokis and Harmony Restoule, who work at the plant.

One of our educators, Adrianna Bilinski, explained, “Many students knew Louise, and her face lit up to see them and their excitement to learn about her work. One student exclaimed ‘I didn’t know you were a scientist! I want to be a scientist when I get older.’”

Making connections between Water First programs is also an important feature of our work. Interconnectivity has many facets – like graduates from a Drinking Water Internship explaining water science concepts to younger students in Naskapi First Nation, or high school students in Brunswick House First Nation lending a hand with an Environmental Water project. Read more about how we nurture interconnectivity.

Water- and fish-themed programming in the Northwest Territories

Last August, the Schools Program had our first-ever trip to the Northwest Territories!

We were honoured to join the Délı̨nę Got’ine Government’s 5th Annual Sadǝ́ Camp. Working with students aged 6-13, Catherine and Ter delivered a fun week-long water and fish-themed program that focused on learning about Great Bear Lake. Students enjoyed many hands-on activities: using water science tools to learn about water testing⁠, exploring how their watershed connects to the Arctic Ocean⁠, going out on a boat to learn traditional methods of fish pulling⁠, learning how to clean and smoke fish, and making art using deer hides⁠. We’re already looking forward to our next visit!



Sunny days and fun water-science learning in Nunavik

In June 2022, the team was in Kuujjuaq Inuit Village in northern Quebec to deliver fun, hands-on water science activities with five different classes at Jaanimmarik High School (in both French and English). The program included getting out on the ice at Stewart Lake, the community’s drinking water source. Students used an underwater camera to search for aquatic life.

In a new program, Full Circle, students learned about the entire water treatment process using flashcards, pipes and more. To bring the lesson “full circle,” the students visited the local water treatment plant where they met Paul, the operator. Paul showed the students the real-life versions of many of the stages of the water treatment process that the students had learned in class, including intake pipes, UV lightbulbs for disinfecting and slow sand filters.

In January 2023, the team was in Kuujjuaq again, as well as another Inuit village, Kangirsuk. Adrianna Bilinski (who you can get to know a bit better in this video), Water First’s Indigenous School Engagement Program Manager, described the experience as “almost too beautiful for words.” The team had the privilege of working with students in different grades and inspiring them to take an interest in water science.

Click the link below to read Adrianna’s full blog post about this unforgettable trip.

Summer Credit Programs integrate experiential learning and Indigenous culture

While the main objective with Summer Credit Programs is for students to earn high school credits, the programs are also delivered in a way that integrates Indigenous culture: learning on the land, working with water and fish, and learning from Elders, Knowledge Keepers, local lands and water organizations and community programs. 

Water First’s Summer Credit Programs prioritize hands-on, experiential learning as an alternative to mainstream teaching methods. Students get to continue their learning journey and gain credits towards graduation from high school in a way that meets their needs. Our programs are project-based, so students can take pride in contributing to their community’s growth. Students also gain foundational knowledge to prepare for jobs or other opportunities in water.⁠

Read more about the Summer Credit Program we delivered for the second time with Beausoleil First Nation, and for the first time with students from Saugeen First Nation and Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. 

We’re excited for our third year of Summer Credit Programs to come in 2023. Stay tuned for future updates!

When Indigenous youth succeed, whole communities benefit

Water First’s Educational Programs Manager Dillon Koopmans shared his thoughts on how Indigenous youth employment benefits whole communities on the CareerWise blog.

On the horizon for 2023

In early May, we will be in Edmonton for Soaring, an Indigenous youth empowerment gathering hosted by Indspire. If you are attending, please drop by our booth and say hello!

Later in the summer, for a second year, Water First will be collaborating with Lakehead University and N’bi Kendaaswin (Water Knowledge) expert and PhD., Vanier Scholar Susan Chiblow to deliver Aki Kikinomakaywin. This summer learning experience offers hands-on STEAM learning opportunities for Indigenous Youth in Northern Ontario. Aki Kikinomakaywin is a women- and Indigenous-led program that teaches Indigenous youth ages 12-14 from northern Ontario First Nation communities Indigenous ways of knowing and being through learning on the land and through the use of western science techniques.

We also have a number of other inspiring and exciting trips to other schools planned for the year. Watch for our next update later in the year to hear more.

Water First has seen significant growth in requests from communities that wish to partner with us for schools programming. We are grateful to the many donors and champions who are helping to inspire the next generation of water scientists.

Our heartfelt thanks for your support!