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The water crisis facing Indigenous communities is profound. Founded in 2009, Water First Education & Training Inc. partners with Indigenous communities to help resolve local water challenges through education, training and meaningful collaboration. Water First offers training and education in three key programs: Drinking Water Internship, Environmental Water Technical Training and school-based water science education workshops

The approach to providing these programs sets Water First apart. We listen and work alongside Indigenous partners to learn about long-term environmental water goals and local training needs. Each program is then adapted based on these local, community-identified needs. 

Bringing skills training and internship opportunities to communities provides training opportunities that are locally based and connect learning and skill development to the land and water.

Community Collaborations
Drinking Water Internship Graduates
26 Participants
in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 30 participants
2022/2023 Planned: 42 participants, 14 graduates

Certifications Achieved in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 23 certifications
2022/2023 Planned: 55 certifications

Training Hours1 in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 29,260 hours
2022/2023 Planned: 30,870 hours

Community Collaborations in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 18 communities
2022/2023 Planned: 22 communities

1 Includes all classroom, field, tutorials, and plant hours for all participants.

47 Participants
in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 35 participants
2022/2023 Planned: 51 participants

Training Hours2 in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 255 hours
2022/2023 Planned: 756 hours

Community Collaborations in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 12 communities
2022/2023 Planned: 30 communities

2 Includes all classroom, field, and practicum hours for all participants.

1,220 Students
in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 215 Students
2022/2023 Planned: 1,720

High School Credits Earned in 2021/2022
2020/2021:3 9 credits 2022/2023 Planned: 60 credits
Programs Delivered in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 7 programs
2022/2023 Planned: 38 programs

Community Collaborations in 2021/2022

2020/2021: 6 communities
2022/2023 Planned: 35 communities

* Due to the global pandemic, we were unable to deliver many in-person workshops for nearly two school years.
3 The Summer Reach Ahead Program pilot began in fiscal year 2020/2021.

Program Learnings

Water First’s programs focus on educational equity in the field of water science. Despite the national attention the First Nations water crisis has seen in recent years, there is still so much to be done to move the needle forward. 

Given our unique mandate, our experiences and challenges can be equally unique and specific to our work. Sharing our lived experiences; our success and failures in the field. Acknowledging and acting to address the differences between how a program looks on paper versus what it will look like on the ground. All of these conversations help us ensure the programming we are delivering creates trusting relationships, successful partnerships and sustainable results in partner communities. 

Through this ongoing process of open discussions, reflection and evaluation, we are creating a template for respectful and successful Indigenous community engagement. Consultations with the Indigenous Advisory Council and community partners inform us how Water First’s expertise can play a role at the community level in a way that makes the most sense. It is not a cookie cutter approach; it cannot be. The expanding demand for our programs from existing, as well as new, partner communities indicates the success of our programs. This approach works. 

Over the last two years, we recognized the need to identify what it was specifically about our programs and approach that is working, and where it is falling short. Through participant feedback, observations and research, we identified key factors of design and delivery that best supports our learning audience. From this, we developed a clear guiding philosophy of education and training. Grounded in learning principles and best practices of Indigenous and western education design and delivery methods, this philosophy represents how we will develop and deliver our programs to continue to meet the specific needs of our learning audience. This ensures that we continue what is working well and support improvement in the areas where we have fallen short.

At the same time, we have developed a robust set of engaging and learner-centred training materials to help best support our learners. These materials are essential to support an expanding training team. We also recognized the need for more extensive and creative ways to assess and evaluate the success of the programs. It is vital that our programs continue to be informed and improved by the perspectives and experiences of the Indigenous youth and young adults participating in our programs. This includes helping to identify and overcome barriers that prevent participants from succeeding in a program. One of the many examples of this includes access to funds for childcare services so the interns can attend training knowing their kids are being well cared for. This ensures that we are continuing to address participant learning needs in the ways they need it most.

Adaptability is especially important from the perspective of program participants. When the COVID pandemic hit we shifted our hands-on training workshops to an online learning format. Remote Indigenous communities were especially vulnerable in light of the pandemic. So, we deferred to the decisions of local leaders on travelling to communities. When travel was not safe, we pivoted to an online delivery format to continue delivering vital programming in collaboration with community partners.

Even though in-person workshops are the standard format of delivery, we have committed to a blended programming format. Online learning technologies and strategies now supplement our hands-on training workshops when it can best support community partners and participants.