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Water First collaborates with Indigenous communities across Canada to ensure easily accessible and sustainable water

By Rob Paul

In Canada, many First Nation communities still don't have easily accessible water and are under a boiled water advisory.

This issue isn't always from a lack of water treatment systems, but rather a lack of certified personnel to operate and maintain the systems.

With a mission to help address local water challenges in Indigenous communities, Water First collaborates with the communities through education and training to help support them in becoming self-sufficient.

Established in 2009, Water First started out as an organization called Tin Roof Global that initially focused on helping overseas through initiatives that supported clean water for schools in Uganda. 

“Over time, we began to look at what work we could do in collaboration with Indigenous communities in Canada to support local water challenges through listening and understanding community needs that would evolve,” said Ami Gopal, Water First Director of Development and Communications. “Around five years ago, we became fully focused on working in partnership with our Indigenous communities here in Canada. We've collaborated with 56 Indigenous communities in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador.”

In 2013, Water First got involved with its first-ever Canadian initiative by partnering with Shawanaga First Nation. Then in 2016, Water First officially transitioned to focusing exclusively on water issues affecting First Nation communities in Canada.

“When we first started exploring the work we could do here in Canada, our executive director (John Millar) said he would be speaking with groups and organizations that would talk about challenges here at home and we started exploring to see what we could do and how we could support communities,” Gopal said.

With a highly-trained growing and experienced staff, Water First has developed the best practices to ensure sustainable water in Indigenous communities. Though it's primarily a non-Indigenous organization, they have emphasized the importance of collaboration with Indigenous communities and are provided guidance from their First Nations Advisory Council member.

“Water First collaborates with Indigenous communities across the country. We're dedicated to resolving water challenges, so our focus is education and training to ensure sustainable access to clean water,” said Gopal. “Our team isn't Indigenous-led, but we do have Indigenous staff and board members, and we rely on the frank and honest guidance of our First Nations Advisory Council—the members really help us design and deliver our programs to these communities. Our staff has grown over time, but they have extensive experience in developing and delivering programs—we've got water quality analysts, professors, engineers, environmental scientists. Our staff has the academic background, but also just a wealth of project experience. Over the years we've definitely grown. It comes back to building strong partnerships and taking the time to listen and understand what the communities' goals are and pairing that with a program that fits and helps address the challenges in a collaborative way.”

Not every Indigenous community Water First works with is in need of the same program, which is why they've developed three programs and within those programs they adapt to the specifics of a given community. 

“Water First has three core program areas: Drinking Water, Environmental Water, and we work with school-aged students,” said Gopal. “Our Drinking Water program provides 15 months of paid skills training in water, water training, and treatment. The technology alone does not provide clean and reliable drinking water, the people who are running the systems are critical. Our drinking water internship prepares young Indigenous people for a career in their community water treatment plant, and they receive ongoing support as the enter the professional field. 

“Our Environmental Water program—again the focus is on skills training—it's in the area of bodies of water with restoration and water quality studies. We consult with our Indigenous partners about their long-term goals and then together design a project-based training program to help achieve the goal while also building skills and local capacity. The third program is our Indigenous school water program. We engage entire schools, students from kindergarten to Grade 12 in hands-on workshops with fun and unique resources while promoting environmental conservation awareness.”

Gopal believes the collaboration that Water First has prioritized is what makes them such an effective leader for change in the Indigenous communities they work with. She says it's not about them going in and telling communities how they can fix water issues, it's about working side-by-side with them to find solutions. 

“Being a heavily collaborative organization helps us engage in a meaningful way with the communities so we can build trust that has lasting results from the work we do together,” she said. “As a largely non-Indigenous organization, we've found that relevant solutions and sustainable programs really emerge through listening, building relationships, and reciprocal learning. Sometimes communities will have heard about Water First and will connect with us and other times we reach out, and really, it's organic and it grows from there. We've seen great success in building strong partnerships with communities and partners and then aligning the programs with the community goals, training needs, and objectives is what sets Water First apart.”

The reason Water First decided to get involved is because the lack of accessible water isn't a problem they believe any Canadian should have to deal with says Gopal, and yet, it's been an ongoing issue for many Indigenous communities, particularly in Ontario.

“The water challenges that Indigenous communities are facing are unacceptable,” she said. “13.5 per cent of First Nations communities in Canada are under a boiled water advisory, and in Ontario, it's 40 per cent of First Nations communities. In many communities, existing water treatment staff are doing a great job with available resources, but communities have identified the need for more young, qualified, and local personnel to support solving water issues independently and for the long term. Every community is different, so understanding what community members and leaders have to say about their goals and their priorities is really the catalyst for building relevant and sustainable solutions.”

As a charity, Water First needs donation to continue to work with Indigenous communities in a timely manner. Donations help Water First in many capacities with 61 per cent going to its Drinking Water program, 14 per cent to its Indigenous Schools program, 12 per cent to its Environmental Water program, nine per cent to fundraising, and four per cent to administration.

“Water First is proud to receive support from individuals and organizations across the country,” she said. “We are a charitable organization, so we rely on the support of donors, and that financial support allows us to respond to community needs in a timeframe that works for these communities. I would encourage anyone to keep the conversation going and learn more about water challenges that Indigenous communities are facing and to consider donating to Water First online and to following us on social media to track what we're doing.”

The Rotary Club of Bolton is currently running a matching fundraiser up to $4,000 in collaboration with Water First. The Rotary club will match all donations which in turn will be matched again by Rotary International, meaning donations from the community will be quadrupled/

To donate to the Rotary Club of Bolton's fundraiser, visit and to donate to Water First, visit 



Post date: 2021-08-26 11:41:11
Post date GMT: 2021-08-26 15:41:11
Post modified date: 2021-08-26 11:41:16
Post modified date GMT: 2021-08-26 15:41:16

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