National First Nations Water Leadership Award

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About the award

There are people who, by their everyday actions, are able to 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 by:

In addition to the eligibility criteria, the Advisory Committee will consider the following criteria in their selection:

How to submit a nomination

The nomination period for the 2022 National First Nations Water Leadership Award is January 3, 2022, to March 31, 2022.

In the nomination, please provide:

Send the completed nomination to: prixdeau-wateraward@sac-isc.gc.ca.

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, is available on the CRTPA website.

Past winners

2021 winner

Jonathan Riberdy of Zhiibaahaasing First Nation announced as recipient of the 2021 National First Nations Water Leadership Award

Jonathan Riberdy

Jonathan Riberdy

Zhiibaahaasing First Nation, Ontario

Nominator: Madjid Mohseni, Professor, University of British Columbia and Scientific Director, RESEAU Centre for Mobilizing Innovation

"My favourite part of my day-to-day work within Zhiibaahaasing First Nation is ensuring we have clean drinking water. Showing trainees and our community members the processes of the water plant. Teaching my knowledge to other operators is the most rewarding, knowing that I can share my knowledge. Four times a year in Zhiibaahaasing, we host a water ceremony with our Elders and women take the lead in these ceremonies for our clean drinking water. We take this time to say Miigwech (thank you) to the water for letting us have clean drinkable, fishable and swimmable water. Having leadership at these ceremonies shows the commitment towards water and gives them an understanding of the water processes. I would like the leadership to respect operators and respect the knowledge we hold and the pride we take in ensuring our water is safe. I would also like leadership to promote water and wastewater jobs in their communities."

Read more from Jonathan Riberdy

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?

First and foremost I would like to say I am honoured to be nominated for this award and thank you to the people that took the time to nominate me.

The biggest need is having safe drinking water in Zhiibaahaasing First Nation. Zhiibaahaasing First Nation is located on the largest freshwater island in the world and we have been on a long-term boil advisory for over 30 years. Zhiibaahaasing First Nation is currently without a water treatment plant. In the summer of 2019, Zhiibaahaasing Water Treatment Plant was in danger due to high water levels approaching the building. In the spring of 2020, the building was deemed unsafe as the integrity of the building was compromised due to water levels and high winds. The water plant was decommissioned. A state of emergency was declared by Chief and Council and is currently still in effect.

In the summer of 2019, the winds and high water levels raised concerns for the integrity of the building. I watched and observed the water levels on a daily basis and I had expressed my concerns that the water levels were nearing the building. On the evening of June 29, 2019, the winds were high, so I went to check the plant around 7 p.m. and found the water had washed under the water treatment plant and started to remove the rock supporting the foundation. The holding tanks that hold 13,000 gallons of water sat on the corner where the water had washed away the foundation. The fear was the weight of the water could damage the whole water treatment plant. At this point, leadership was notified that emergency support was required. That evening, E. Corbiere & Sons were called in for emergency support and were on site within 1 hour of the call out. That weekend and in the following weeks, loads of rock and armoured stone were delivered to protect the water treatment plant from future damage from the rising waters. A new break wall and raising of the ground level was completed during the summer and into the winter months.

During the spring of 2020, the concern was there again from high water levels and wind. The wind was so powerful that Chief and Council declared the water treatment plant, that was built in 2013, structurally unsafe.

Once Chief and Council declared the State of Emergency, the community was without water. No drinking water, no water in the cisterns and no deliveries. We were able to quickly reach out to MChiigeeng First Nation for support. We hired Bright Water Services out of Kitchener to deliver water from MChiigeeng First Nation 3 times a week and 2 to 3 loads a day. We also had to provide clean drinking water to each home. Culligan Water was obtained to bring drinking water once a month to the community. Each home was equipped with a water cooler to support the jugs that they received. Currently, Culligan is still providing water delivery.

During this time, I worked alongside my Chief and Council, Band Manager, ISC, First Nations Engineering Services Ltd. and BI Pure Water to get a temporary water treatment plant in Zhiibaahaasing First Nation. The plan was to have a sea-can built as a portable package plant to ensure Zhiibaahaasing had water in the community. A distribution line was placed in the ground to connect the package plant to the low lift station that pulls water from Lake Huron. The package plant arrived September 3, 2020.

Training for the package plant started in December 2020. Training was for 2 weeks with the operator from BI Pure Water. Once the training was finished, the first load of water was delivered on December 25, 2020. With this new package plant, it was imperative to have 2 operators on site while water was delivered via truck to each cistern, to monitor the PLC and ensure there were no alarms during hauling.

Now, Zhiibaahaasing First Nation is waiting on a new water treatment plant and distribution system. This new system will get Zhiibaahaasing First Nation off the long-term boil water advisory and allow for removal of all the cisterns from each home and community building.

What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work within your community?

My favourite part of my day-to-day work within Zhiibaahaasing First Nation is ensuring we have clean drinking water and showing trainees and community members the processes of the water plant. Teaching my knowledge to other operators is the most rewarding, knowing I can share my knowledge. Troubleshooting and cleaning the instruments are some of the ways I teach my trainees, along with completing in-house water samples. Hands-on learning for myself and other trainees is the best way to learn water treatment.

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?

Four times a year in Zhiibaahaasing, we host a water ceremony with our elders and women take the lead in these ceremonies for our clean drinking water. We host these 4 times a year to ensure our community takes this time together to honour the water and discuss issues we have with water in our community. We take this time to say Miigwech (thank you) to the water for letting us have clean drinkable, fishable, and swimmable water. Having leadership at these ceremonies shows the commitment towards water and gives them an understanding of the water processes.

I would like the leadership to respect operators and respect the knowledge we hold and the pride we take in ensuring our water is safe. I would also like leadership to promote water and waste water jobs in their communities. I would like to see more female operators in this field as they protect and care for our waters. I would like to see 1 female operator to every male operator.

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