National First Nations Water Leadership Award

Nominations now accepted until March 31, 2023!

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About the award

There are people who, by their everyday actions, guide, influence and inspire. We call them leaders.

The National First Nations Water Leadership Award recognizes First Nations individuals or organizations that have demonstrated leadership and outstanding dedication to the advancement of clean and safe drinking water in First Nations communities, today and for future generations.

In March 2018, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) created the National First Nations Water Leadership Award, which is open annually to nominations for eligible candidates. An advisory committee of First Nations partners reviews the nominations and provides recommendations to the Minister of Indigenous Services.

Who is eligible

Eligible candidates are:

Eligible candidates must have demonstrated leadership and made outstanding contributions to the advancement of clean and safe drinking water in First Nations communities through their extraordinary involvement in First Nations water-related issues by:

How to submit a nomination

To submit a nomination, describe how your nominee has met the eligibility requirements. Send your completed form by email to prixdeau-wateraward@sac-isc.gc.ca. Nominations are accepted until March 31, 2023.

To ensure your nomination will be accepted, please send the following information:

Include any other information you would like to share about the nominee to show their extraordinary involvement in First Nations water-related issues.

Note that the advisory committee may contact you or the reference provided. Incomplete submissions will not be considered.

Bursaries available

To honour the winners of the National First Nations Water Leadership Award and promote further engagement in water leadership, $10,000 in bursaries are available each year. They will be awarded in the winner's name to First Nation applicants who are pursuing or furthering their career in the water and wastewater industry. The Circuit Rider Trainer Professional Association (CRTPA) is responsible for administering the bursaries. More information and a bursaries application form (PDF) is available on the CRTPA website.

2022 winner

Brian Indian of Onigaming First Nation announced as 2022 National First Nations Water Leadership Award recipient

Brian Indian

Brian Indian

Ojibways of Onigaming, Ontario
Nominator: Phil Tangie, Anishinaabeg of Kabapikotawangag Resource Council

"My favorite part of the day is in the morning, looking at the data and seeing that everything ran the way it is supposed to and the community's water is safe and potable to consume."

Read more from Brian Indian

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
The biggest need in our community is upgrading our aging plant. The ozone system is 16 years old and a lot of parts are obsolete and no longer exist. My knowledge of how the plant operates and running the plant in manual for almost a year until funding and a SCADA computer could be installed, this is when I began to push for our tribal council to try and get HUB water support.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
My favorite part of the day is in the morning, looking at the data and seeing that everything ran the way it is supposed to and the community's water is safe and potable to consume.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
My message to others is always think safety. Don't be scared to repair things but always think safety for yourself, your coworkers and your community.

Summary of Brian's nomination:
Brian Indian is the only certified water operator in his community and is a Level 3 Water Treatment. Operator. With 17 years of operational experience and as the water leader in his community, Brian promotes community awareness by organizing and holding "Water Awareness" days, providing tours of the water plant. Brian, who has Parkinson's disease, serves as the primary operator and continues to inspire all those who know him because of his ongoing dedication and commitment to his profession despite the medical challenges he faces daily. With no backup or relief operator, Brian has not taken time off his duties however he is currently mentoring 2 operators-in-training to plan for his succession.

2022 nominees

Nominees for the 2022 National First Nations Water Leadership Award and past winners

Leon Andrew

Leon Andrew and the Ɂehdzo Got'ı̨nę Gots'ę́ Nákedı (Sahtú Renewable Resources Board-SRRB)

Northwest Territories
Nominator: Mylène Ratelle, University of Waterloo

"The biggest need is for water to be safe. We rely on fish and if the water is not healthy, we are in trouble. Here, the Sahtú and the North people need a strong voice. I feel like I can help people with that. We are working with our neighbors and government to make sure our community needs are being met and recognized."

Read more from Leon Andrew

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement has helped to address that need?
The biggest need is for water to be safe. Both drinking water and in regards to food security. We rely on fish and if the water is not healthy, we are in trouble. Our water comes from the south so we need for our water to not get here contaminated and for it to stay clean and safe. The biggest need is for water to continue to be safe so we can drink it and have fish too.

Not everyone has a job that they can feed their families with their salaries. When people are displaced because of water concerns it is a big issue. We need fresh, safe water all the time.

Here, the Sahtú and the North people need a strong voice. I feel like I can help people with that. We are working with our neighbors and government to make sure our community needs are being met and recognized.

What is your favorite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
It's all about our people, they need safe water. Since Covid, things have been stalled in regards to economic development but things are slowly picking up again and industry will be back. We need to make sure our water is safe even when we have industry working near our water sources.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
We need healthy water or our community will not survive. How our community treats the waste and garbage is very important. We should be carefully examining this and making sure it is going well and we're not contaminating our water. And we need to be working together with our leaders and governments.

Summary of Leon's nomination:
The SRRB works to build research projects and intervention programs to improve the wellness of the Sahtú region in relation to the environment. As Research Director, Leon Andrew believes in the importance of using a holistic approach in assessing the human relationship with water and is committed to teaching the youth. Recognized as one of the Sahtú Region's leaders, he is involved in various regional, national and international programs related to water including community-driven initiatives and has facilitated an on-the-land Water Knowledge Camps program for cross-cultural exchanges on water. He has been an advisor to federal and territorial governments and has helped with the establishment of the Nááts'ihch'oh National Park, aiming to preserve clean water and healthy land. Mr. Andrew mentioned that after residential school, he spent time travelling by moose skin boat, which supported his vocation to improve natural resources management.

Garney Reid

Garney Reid

Heiltsuk First Nation, British Columbia
Nominator: Leo Lawson, Heiltsuk First Nation

"I enjoy working at the water treatment plant and ensuring that our water is safe to drink, and we have fire protection. As for a message to other workers in this field, I would encourage them to…get certified and take everything in stride, as sometimes it can be very stressful during hot summer days and cold winter nights."

Read more from Garney Reid

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
What I feel about our biggest need regarding safe drinking water in my community would be conservation of our treated water and ongoing upkeep of our distribution system. I kind of feel that our community doesn't realize how fortunate we are to have safe drinking for consumption and fire protection. We need to push for better water conservation (which is a work in progress) and always look to maintain leaking water service mains, which is always ongoing as we have aging infrastructure.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
For day-to-day operations, I enjoy working at the water treatment plant and ensuring that our water is safe to drink and we have fire protection.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
As for a message to other workers in this field, I would encourage them to learn their job to be their best. Get certified and take everything in stride as sometimes it can be very stressful during hot summer days and those cold winter nights (high demand times). That's about it. The job can be very demanding and stressful but if you do your job as you should, things should turn out good for the most part.

Summary of Garney's nomination:
The water treatment facility in Heiltsuk First Nation requires a dedicated operator to maintain and operate the complex system as it also serves the larger remote community of Bella Bella. Garney has been the operator since 2005 and is known as a positive leader, always with a beaming smile. Garney has achieved the highest provincial accreditations including Water Treatment Operator Level 3 Certification, Water Distribution Operator Level 2 Certification, Level 1 Wastewater Collection Certification and Chlorine Handling Certification as well as other professional certifications. He conducts water quality checks throughout the community on a weekly basis to ensure water safety, monitors chlorine levels, oversees in-house bacterial testing and performs various repairs while monitoring ongoing leak control issues. Garney is a hands-on manager whose number 1 priority is keeping people safe and doing the best he can to serve his community.

Katy Thorne

Katy Thorne

Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc, British Columbia
Nominator: Madjid Mohseni, RESEAU Centre for Mobilizing Innovation

"I understand that my work here is bigger than me. I am dedicated and involved so the youth of tomorrow will be set up for success. I would like to say Gilakas'la (Thank you) to those who speak up for water. Water is life, and we need to protect it day in and day out!"

Read more from Katy Thorne

Yo (Hello), my name is Katy Thorne. I grew up in Kamloops, BC, and live here presently. Hedan abampi (my mother is) Ruth Barnes and hedan umpi (my father is) Jerome Thorne. Hedan ga'agampi (my grandparents are) Deanna Cook, Yvonne Pigeon, dlu'(and) Orin Thorne. My grandmother Deanna is from 'Namgis Nation in Alert Bay, BC. While I have never lived on the island, whenever I visit, I am welcomed home. My grandmother Yvonne is from Esk'etemc in Alkali Lake, BC.

I am extremely proud and honoured to be nominated for the National First Nations Water Leadership Award. I would like to share this nomination with those listed above and my colleagues. I currently work with Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc as a Wastewater Collections Operator. I was hired as a summer student in 2018, then following the completion of my Diploma in Water and Wastewater Technology from Thompson Rivers University in 2019, I was hired full-time.

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
Our community is extremely lucky to have the infrastructure and resources to supply safe drinking water to its members. We are graced with an abundance of water in the Thompson Watershed. Some of TteS' needs are the following:

Asset Management
In our community and those that surround us on Turtle Island, there is a dire need for asset management. All the infrastructure we have is great, but what happens when these systems only last 20 years instead of 50. The lack of maps, maintenance records and operators tells me we are behind the times. We need to prolong the life of our investments. Still operating with PDF maps and paper logbooks, I knew something needed to change. Our Planning and Engineering Department found a potential solution with Lightship. Lightship is a local GIS platform that allows us to create, manage, analyze and map all types of data. Fortunately, we employed an engineering firm to get us started with the base maps from our PDFs. With access to this app and the new maps, I began to populate it with our assets, record data and generate reports when needed. Last year, myself and another operator from TteS attended ISC's Sustainable Infrastructure Workshop Series over Zoom. We learned the ins and outs of asset management so we can become better operators. The main lesson from those workshops for me, was that a program this size needs to come from chief and council. I can do my part as an operator by utilizing the tools they provide. While TteS' Asset Management Program is still a work in progress, I am seeing collaboration and innovation that is promising.

Safety Procedures
When I started in 2019, my first realization was that I need to be responsible for my own safety. We have regular maintenance tasks that required confined space entry with little to no procedures around that work. I started with what we had, a partial CSE Program, some out-of-date equipment and paper copies of previous tasks. My first step was to attend training in Confined Space Entry and Monitoring, Occupational First Aid Level 1 and Fall Protection. Next, I ensured our equipment was certified and safe to use. Then I got to work on the procedures. In 2011, the new lift stations were packaged with an Operation and Maintenance Manual and a Confined Space Entry Program. This program neglected what was already existing: 3 lift stations, manholes, valve chambers and lots more. I had reached out to our Circuit Rider for help and was given advice but no solution at that time. I went to work and researched CSE through the WorkSafeBC website. I used the program that was given to us, the information through the website and my own knowledge of safe work practices to ensure the job was done properly and we would return home at the end of the day. At last, this year we were given a contact that could write us a program to include the neglected sites. I am happy to report that the draft documents are close to being finalized. In the future, I would like to see a standardization of procedures encompassing safe work for all First Nations.

Operator Retention
One of our community's biggest challenges is our lack of operators. In 2021, I was the sole operator of our Wastewater Collection (WWC) system. Our Water Distribution (WD) system does not have a dedicated operator, nonetheless, I will have enough hours in the fall to write my Level 1 WD exam with Environmental Operators Certification Program. To put things into perspective for you, lots of tasks in this line of work require 2 to 3 people. One operator is simply not enough. This spring, we finally hired another full-time worker for the WWC system giving us 2 in total. We feel the pressure for properly maintained WD and WWC systems. It is extremely important to maintain these so we can continue to supply safe drinking water to our community and protect the environment we live in. Unfortunately, we have been stretched thin working on both systems. With the abundance of overdue work and ongoing maintenance, our best solution is more operators!!

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
My favorite part of my day-to-day work is the inspiration I feel from the surrounding environment. This past year, the world was shocked by the announcement of the confirmation of Le Estcwicwéy̓ (The Missing). The elders in our community always knew there are children buried in unmarked graves and I admire the strength of our Leadership to share that with the world. I want to honour the children by applying myself and getting the education that they were neglected of.

I understand that my work here is bigger than me. I am dedicated and involved so the youth of tomorrow will be set up for success.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
I would share with others that they too play a role in safe drinking water and water leadership. Everyone can do their part; be conservative with water usage, control what is going down your drains, make a conscience effort to learn about your water, where it comes from and where it ends up.

I would like to encourage chief and council and management in each community to listen to us, the operators, and follow our lead at times. Don't let our knowledge go to waste.

I would like to promote the standardization of procedures within all communities. Have up-to-date programs to help us operators; Operation and Maintenance, Confined Space Entry, Fall Protection, Asset Management, Cross Connection Control, Emergency Response Plans, etc.

Lastly, I would like to say Gilakas'la (Thank you) to those who speak up for water. Water is life and we need to protect it day in and day out!

Summary of Katy's nomination:
As an innovative and skilled utilities operator in TteS, Katy is an inspiration and role model to female Indigenous youth, excelling in a traditionally male-dominated industry while setting a high bar for performance and community service. Katy is a Level 2 certified Wastewater Collection Operator who operates and maintains a significant wastewater collection network. Katy is passionate about learning and sharing knowledge on the importance of safe drinking water and wastewater management to a community's health, economy and quality of life. When she's not performing her duties as a wastewater collection operator, Katy speaks at conferences and is on the TteS Asset Management Team, working to keep water and wastewater infrastructure top of mind among community leaders. Katy is also a keen recreational ice hockey player and volunteer referee in the local adult and youth leagues. On or off the ice, her colleagues describe her as hard-working, dedicated and a true team player.

Troy MacBeth Abromaitis

Troy MacBeth Abromaitis

Lytton First Nation, British Columbia
Nominator: Gary Khind, Bucci Developments

"We are all interconnected and we can all learn from each other. Through sacred teachings and ceremony to contemporary methods and strategies for water protection and conservation, we can all benefit together as a community if everyone is working towards the same goal of water protection."

Read more from Troy MacBeth Abromaitis

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
Firstly, I would like to humbly thank my community and the individuals that nominated me for consideration for this award.

On June 30, 2021, a fire destroyed the majority of the village of Lytton and impacted hundreds of members of the Lytton First Nation who live on the 56 reserves spread across the Fraser River. Members of my community were scattered across British Columbia while the wildfires raged across our territory and our members were eager to return to our ancestral lands. The homes families would be returning to were damaged or destroyed, critical infrastructure was put out of commission and access to clean drinking water was completely cut off in some areas.

In the fall of 2021, major rain storms created an atmospheric river which resulted in torrential rains and major flooding occurred severely damaging Lytton and the greater Nlaka'pamux Territory. The members of my community that wanted to return home were unable to due to these 2 significant catastrophes. Both the buildings and infrastructure that support many of the communities were destroyed and again access to safe drinking water was limited.

As a business leader, I recognized this was a critical issue and I personally fundraised more than $60,000 to help rebuild my Nation and provide my community members with funds to address immediate needs and necessities such as clean drinking water, food and clothes. My efforts did not stop there, I also serve on the board for the Economic Development Committee to further benefit my Nation's community rebuilding efforts. I am passionate about helping my community recover.

As an Indigenous business leader and real estate development professional, I have a sacred duty to protect the environment. In this capacity, I act as both a sustainable community builder and environmental steward. At Bucci Developments, I have implemented a development mandate which focuses on green building and technology. This sustainable community building approach has been directly applied to more than $1 billion in contemplated projects.

On the project that I work on, I apply low carbon green building design, climate smart and resilient build strategies, and zero emission and water sustainability measures. This has led to a water use reduction of hundreds of millions of liters on the 34 projects I have managed over the course of my nearly 18-year career. With Lytton First Nation, Musqueam Capital Corp and other First Nations I am involved with, I provide advice and guidance on real estate development, sustainability measures and water conservation strategies.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
I am a survivor of the Sixties Scoop. I was taken away as a child by policy that separated Indigenous children in Canada from their families. I was cut off from my family, culture and language. I was raised by a middle-class family in Vancouver. I had to grow up not knowing why I was put up for adoption, where I was from or who my family was. While I was fortunate to be adopted by the Abromaitis family, I suffered from feelings of loss, depression and reduced self-esteem.

These issues carried over from childhood and as a young adult, I knew I had to overcome these obstacles and create a life I would be proud of and to also inspire the next generation of Indigenous leaders. I wanted to prove that your past does not define your potential or your success in the future. After reclaiming my past, I am now a member of the Nlaka'pamux Nation.

Rejoining my community has been an incredibly emotional and uplifting journey for me. I reconnected with my lost family, lost culture and lost ancestral connection to my lands and peoples. I have been able to explore my Indigenous identity while giving back to my community with my knowledge of real estate development, community building and sustainability strategies including water conservation.

Being able to connect with knowledge keepers, elders, chief and council and other members of the community and give back in a good way is my favourite part of my work with my community. Being actively involved in the Economic Development Committee and rebuild of the community plays on the strengths of my nearly 18 years of experience in real estate development.

I am actively working with the Fraser Valley Home Builders Association on builder partnerships, water management strategies and integrated storm water management approaches that can promote water resilience within my community.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
There is an enormous diversity among Indigenous communities across Canada, each of which has its own history, language, culture and way of life. Despite these differences, our peoples across Turtle Island share common values derived from an understanding that our lives are inseparable from the natural world (being the land and water).

Protecting the land and water is a sacred duty. Our people are regularly reminded of this responsibility by stories and ceremonies. As a part of reclaiming my culture and Indigenous identity, I participate in water-based ceremonies and this helps to inform me of cultural teachings that apply to the importance of water to my people.

Being connected to both the Thompson and Fraser Rivers, the Nlaka'pamux people have always had a sacred connection to the water. I have been actively involved in community-based water conservation for over a decade with the developments I have overseen at Bucci Developments and Wallmark Homes. I would suggest that a community-based approach to water conservation and water leadership be considered with input from elders, chief and council, on and off reserve members etc.

We are all interconnected and we can all learn from each other. Through sacred teachings and ceremony to contemporary methods and strategies for water protection and conservation, we can all benefit together as a community if everyone is working towards the same goal of water protection.

Summary of Troy's nomination:
After reclaiming his past, Troy is now a member of Lytton First Nation and was the first Indigenous president of the Real Estate Institute of BC and is a founding member of the National Indigenous Affordable Housing Corp. His leadership has been recognized by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, with the Native American Top 40 award. In his career, Troy has overseen 34 multi-family development projects including a project where the water sustainability measures implemented resulted in an annual reduction of 14 million liters of water consumption. It was this achievement that gave him the idea to provide Indigenous community-based water reduction strategies, guidance and advice to First Nations on water management strategies.

Warren Brown

Warren Brown

Lytton First Nation, British Columbia
Nominator: Casey Neathway, First Nations Health Authority

"Our biggest need to continue delivering safe drinking water is engaging with our youth. We need to attract younger operators into the field and start the succession planning process so they can continue on what we have started. My message to share with fellow operators is open your doors. Offer up tours to your leadership or community leaders, so they understand your hardships or your successes."

Read more from Warren Brown

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
Our biggest need to continue delivering safe drinking water is engaging with our youth. We need to attract younger operators into the field and start the succession planning process so they can continue on what we have started. This is why I try to encourage or support school tours of our water facilities.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
My favorite part of the day-to-day part of work is sitting with the crew and just debriefing our day. We talk about what happened in the field, why changes were made or what our plans are for the weekend. At the end of the work day, we are still us, not the work.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
My message to share with fellow operators, it's something I've been saying for a while now, open your doors. Show your community what you do to make potable water for their communities. Offer up tours to your leadership or community leaders so they understand your hardships or your successes. Talk with the youth, as the youth can take your messages home and hopefully spread the information amongst their families.

The picture is a selfie I took to send to my family, as my granddaughters were scared for me and my safety during our fires. The pic showed them that I was ok and in good spirits still.

Summary of Warren's nomination:
During the evacuation of Lytton due to wildfires in 2021, Warren Brown was 1 of the only Lytton First Nation staff to remain behind, ensuring water lines were flushed and operational, leaks were repaired and treatment plants were brought back up after the exposure to extreme environmental conditions. Warren also stepped up to help the village of Lytton's water operator after the wildfires. Warren is responsible for the operation of 13 drinking water systems in his community, including some decentralized systems, and is an advocate for training and education.

Brennon Laboucan

Brennon Laboucan

Whitefish Lake First Nation #459, Alberta
Nominator: Rod Badger, Circuit Rider Trainer, First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group

"Trust that all water operators are doing their very best at maintaining the water treatment facilities that they work in. Thank them for what they do every day, day in day out, and for keeping our water safe."

Read more from Brennon Laboucan

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
Getting the message out there that our Nation's water is safe. For the longest time we had to battle surface water which can be very hard to treat. Up until we were given a new water treatment facility and trucks for those on cisterns, there were concerns that arose and we have done our very best to go out and figure it out for the people and reassure them that its okay. We do that for them even if we need to go house to house and 1 day at a time, and of course the water treatment plant is always open and welcoming.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
Once only has the school brought in students, if I remember correctly it was grades 7, 8, 9, over to the water treatment plant and that was a very different experience - eye opening and a lot harder than dealing with adults. Being bombarded with questions and doing our best at answering every question that their young and inquisitive minds had, I was literally wiped out mentally! After that experience, I had hoped that the school would send more classes over just to educate them on what they don't see in other aspects of water/wastewater. When the tough problems come, and we have to get in gear, do what needs to be done, or when you have to improvise and adapt to the situation at hand and figuring out how to resolve the issue in a safe way. As we work on the problem and get it finished and to see if it was done right and back to normal, that is the most gratifying feeling.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
Trust that all operators are doing their very best at maintaining the water treatment facilities that they work in. Thank them for what they do every day, day in day out, and keeping our water safe.

Summary of Brennon's nomination:
Brennon is currently the lead operator for his community's water and wastewater systems, certified in Level 2 Water Treatment, Level 2 Water Distribution and Level 1s in Wastewater Collection and Wastewater Treatment. Brennon joined the water/wastewater sector in November 2011 after being offered a job at a water treatment plant and was likely the first in his community to become certified, After his daily work is complete, he likes to engage with his community while sitting around the table set up in the truck bay and chatting with people that stop by.

Shannon Gladue

Shannon Gladue

Kehewin Cree Nation, Alberta
Nominator: Rod Badger, Circuit Rider Trainer, First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group

"This job is a thankless job, no one receives accolades when things are running smoothly. Just know that there are members within each community that do care about the job you are doing, even though they may not say anything, they appreciate the work you do. I think it's important for us to give each other a pat on the back."

Read more from Shannon Gladue

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
Kehewin Cree Nation was under a boil water advisory for a few years prior to it being lifted in the summer of 2020. A new water treatment plant was commissioned in May of 2020, this system consisted of new water treatment technology that no one in the Nation was familiar with. With my previous experiences working with other First Nations and municipalities in the province, I knew I could help the Nation. So we worked closely with the operations team that commissioned the water treatment plant. We helped some of the suppliers install some of the equipment during construction, specifically the membrane filters and this experience will be an asset when it comes time to change these filters in the future. We attended training provided by the suppliers and continue to learn the system and required maintenance in order to keep the treatment plant running at an optimum capacity. I am also helping train the operators in getting certification required to operate the water treatment system. Prior to my arrival, the operators had no certification training. Now we have 2 operators that have achieved Level 1 Water Treatment Certification. Hopefully by the summer of 2023, both of these operators will be certified Level 2 Water Treatment Operators. This training has worked so well that we decided to hire another operator in the spring of 2022. Currently he is in the process of achieving his level 1 certification, hopefully by the summer of 2023; he will be a certified level 1 operator.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
The favorite part of my day is the interaction with the operators. Especially when they have a question, I love explaining the process or system they are inquiring about. It gives me a sense of pride knowing that they want to more about the system. I am also proud of the fact that I am able to answer most of the questions they do have. With that being said, when there is something that I can't answer, it also gives the operators some confidence. They see that even though I have been in this industry for over 20 years, I too still come across things that I don't fully understand. In these instances, we work together to find out the answers to those questions that none of us know. No matter how much you may think you know, there is always some room for learning in this industry.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
This job is a thankless job, no one receives accolades when things are running smoothly. Everyone takes safe drinking water for granted (most people do), but when things go wrong, we as operators are the ones that deal with the consequences. It's not fair, but it is reality. Just know that there are members within each community that do care about the job you are doing, even though they may not say anything, they appreciate the work you do. There are other operators in surrounding communities that go through the same thing, no one pats us on the back for a job well done. I think it's important for us to give each other a pat on the back. I had 1 operator reach out to me when the BWA (boil water advisory) was lifted in my community. He told me "good job on getting your BWA lifted", I told him "thanks, but I really didn't do much". He told me "You do a lot and you deserve to be thanked. No one ever recognizes the operator in these situations; I wanted to tell you what a good job you are doing". This meant a lot to me, it's this type of attitude that resonates through the water operator community.

Summary of Shannon's nomination:
Shannon has achieved a rare level of certification for water operators in Alberta, especially amongst First Nations operators, as a Level 3 Water Treatment, Level 2 Water Distribution, Level 2 Wastewater Collection and Level 1 Wastewater Treatment Operator. Shannon became a Circuit Rider Trainer with the Technical Services Advisory Group (TSAG) in 2006, visiting many First Nations communities throughout the Treaty 8 territory and working closely with the operators and public works departments to provide hands-on training, technical troubleshooting and mentorship. Shannon became a lead operator in 2012 then returned to TSAG in 2016, eventually becoming the Training Coordinator. In 2020, Shannon became the lead operator for Kehewin Cree Nation's recently constructed water treatment plant.

Simon House

Simon House

Paul First Nation, Alberta
Nominator: Rod Badger, Circuit Rider Trainer, First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group

"I believe the biggest need in our community drinking water is the assurance that the water is safe and that the community can trust this. We should not take the water running from our taps for granted and we can all play a role in cherishing our drinking water by beginning to understand how water makes its way into our homes and what we can do conserve it."

Read more from Simon House

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
I believe the biggest need in our community drinking water is the assurance that the water is safe and that the community can trust this. I work hard to keep our water system operating adequately so it can provide the much needed clean drinking water and I feel my work is very important to this assurance. I sample the water quality closely at different points throughout the system and react as quick as possible to any situation that may arise and put the quality at risk. Being the water and wastewater operator for my community gives me a strong sense of pride and it is truly an honor to be in this position.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
In regards to my favorite part of the day-to-day work, I would have to say it is arriving at the water plant and hearing the hum of the equipment and knowing right away if everything is good or if something is wrong or out of line. This skill really comes with experience and training. Some days are smooth while other days not so much, but I must say that's what keeps it exciting. Another favorite part of the day-to-day is knowing that I am playing my part in the health of the community, because water is life and is a necessity for remaining strong going into the future.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
I have always believed that healthy water equals a healthy community and we should hold it up as the most important resource we have in our lives. We should not take the water running from our taps for granted and we can all play a role in cherishing our drinking water by beginning to understand how water makes its way into our homes and what we can do conserve it. I think public education or training in this matter is important and should be a focus when it comes to community discussions.

Summary of Simon's nomination:
After working on the construction site for Paul First Nation's water distribution pump house, Simon became the operator of the community's water system in late 2016. Requiring Level 1 certification to be in the position, Simon eagerly started on his path to becoming certified, completing multiple certifications at the same time which is a difficult task. Over the past 3 years, he has trained and mentored many summer students, Simon recently did a presentation on his community's water and wastewater system at the Technical Services Advisory Group's Annual Water Week Conference.

Vernon Lewis

Vernon Lewis

Onion Lake Cree Nation, Saskatchewan
Nominator: Marvin Loewen, Associated Engineering

"What I like about going to work every day is knowing that, through my role as an operator, my community will receive safe drinking water, both at work and at home. I would like to encourage our people to have more open houses or workshops to update on the changes that occur in our environment and how it impacts water quality."

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What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
One of the biggest needs in our community is to have more training and better salaries available for First Nations community water operators. I have watched our own operators leave to take better paying jobs away from their community.

I've been training younger members so they will stay and learn our water treatment processes, so 1 day I can retire with peace of mind, knowing our water treatment plant is in good hands.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
What I like about going to work every day is knowing that, through my role as an operator, my community will receive safe drinking water, both at work and at home.

Our community has more than 800 homes and there's only 2 of us operators that manage and operate the plant. With that in mind, I try hard each and every day on a daily basis to entice more young people to become interested in this line of work.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
How I would like to encourage our people is to have more open houses or workshops to update on the changes that occur in our environment and how it impacts water quality. This way I can show our people the necessary steps I take to ensure they receive safe drinking water.

Summary of Vernon's nomination:
Vernon has over 20 years experience as a part of Onion Lake Cree Nation's Water Treatment Plant Operations Team and is a Level 2 Certified Water and Wastewater Operator. Vernon's dedication to his work and his willingness to help out even on his scheduled days off, are a significant benefit to the community. Vernon has proven to adapt to new challenges including during a major upgrade on the Onion Lake Cree Nation Water Treatment Plant, which increased the treatment capacity and added new treatment technologies. During construction, Vernon and his team kept the plant operational. Vernon has always been diligent about being involved, learning the new systems and making suggestions for more efficient operation.

Stephanie Willsey

Stephanie Willsey

Rama First Nation, Ontario
Nominator: Tina Geroux-Dunne

"Water is life. It is also an important medicine. We must remind ourselves to protect and cherish our vital waterways and work to promote the ecological health of local rivers, lakes, bays and oceans, which have given so much to our people."

Read more from Stephanie Willsey

What is the biggest need regarding safe drinking water in your community and how do you feel that your work and engagement have helped to address that need?
We are very fortunate in Rama First Nation to have access to clean drinking water. We did however have a drinking water problem in 1 particular area of our reserve for many years. This portion of our reserve, which is home to our Black River Wilderness Campground, did not have a potable water source, which proved to be an obstacle in fully realizing the potential of a First Nations owned and operated business that provides numerous cultural, environmental and economic benefits to our community. With this weighing on my mind, my work has been to strive for all First Nations across Turtle Island to have access to clean drinking water, in adequate quality and quantity to serve our all peoples' needs. I have done so by being part of a legal team that has brought a national class action to provide compensation for long-term drinking water advisories on reserves and to resolve ongoing funding and infrastructure deficits. The class action resulted in a historic $8 billion dollar settlement agreement last year. While there is no amount of money that can provide justice for our people being denied this basic human right, a key part of our cultural practices and the impacts it has had on our communities' health and economy, it is a big step in the right direction.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?
While I do not work directly in my home community, as a result of the pandemic and the shift to a more remote work culture, I have been able to live and work closer to my community, which has allowed me to visit much more frequently. I am a lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault LLP, a law firm in Toronto. My favorite part of my day-to-day work is being able to use my law degree to help people. That was always my intention and to be able to help so many fellow Indigenous peoples, through the clean drinking water class action, PBSC's Indigenous Human Rights Clinic and on other files, has been so fulfilling.

What message would you like to share with others as a way to encourage engagement on safe drinking water and water leadership within their community?
Water is life. It is also an important medicine. We must remind ourselves to protect and cherish our vital waterways and work to promote the ecological health of local rivers, lakes, bays and oceans, which have given so much to our people.

Summary of Stephanie's nomination:
Stephanie Willsey, an Indigenous lawyer from Rama First Nation who works at McCarthy Tetrault in Toronto, was part of the legal team that filed an $8 billion class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of reserves regarding access to clean drinking water. Stephanie feels strongly that all First Nations communities should be able to turn their taps on at any time and have clean water.

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Ernie French-Downey

Takla First Nation, British Columbia
Nominator: Terra French

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Summary of Ernie's nomination:
Ernie is the Manager of the Public Works Department at Takla First Nation, a remote community that requires daily monitoring of the water treatment analytic system. Ernie has demonstrated leadership and innovation by providing precise, on demand services within the Public Works Department. Ernie delivers comprehensive solutions to his team on a daily basis, in emergency situations and volunteers with other First Nations at the Indigenous Zero Waste Technical Advisory Group Society of British Columbia. Ernie continues to enhance his skills and abilities by attending conferences and training opportunities. Ernie shows compassion while on training or off duty, and shows concern for the up keep of the water system and the safety of his community given there are not many certified water operators in the community.

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Hupacasath First Nation and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council

British Columbia
Nominator: Pierre Bérubé, University of British Columbia

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Summary of Hupacasath First Nation and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council's nomination:
To address the water needs of Kleekhoot Reserve in Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island, Brandy Lauder, Chief Councillor for Hupacasath First Nation, boldly adopted a novel technology developed by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) specifically to address challenges faced by many First Nations communities in Canada. Working with UBC, the First Nation and tribal council were able to implement this new technology - a Passive Gravity Driven Membrane Filtration water treatment system - which has now been in operation since November 2020 and has ended over a decade of potable water quality challenges for the community.

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