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Training program aims for safe, sustainable drinking water for Interlake First Nations

An organization fighting for the rights of Indigenous communities to have safe drinking water has announced they are bringing an education and training program to Manitoba.

This week, Water First Education & Training Inc. (Water First) announced they have formed a partnership with the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council (IRTC) that will see members from several First Nations communities given the opportunity to enrol in the Drinking Water Internship Program.

Water First works as a not-for-profit, with the goal of bringing sustainable access to safe and clean water to all Indigenous communities in Canada, and one of the ways they do that is by offering First Nations people opportunities to build careers in the fields of watersheds, water treatment and distribution, and water science and chemistry.

“Infrastructure and technology alone cannot solve the water crisis; having enough skilled people to operate and maintain the systems is also critical,” reads a statement on the organization’s website.

“Drinking water challenges are complex: in some communities, local concerns may be around infrastructure, for others, source water contamination. And numerous communities have challenges recruiting and training young Indigenous adults to join the drinking water field.”

The program, according to Water First, is expanding into Manitoba for the first time, as it only ran previously in Ontario, and is part of what the organization said is their “commitment to help develop these critical projects with communities across the country.”

Interns from the seven IRTC communities can participate in a 15-month program that will allow them to pursue “valuable provincial certifications, which help trainees to begin their careers in the water field.”

“We’re excited that the planning and collaboration with Interlake Reserves Tribal Council will result in further education and careers in the water sciences. We hope the success of this program leads to many more collaborative projects in Manitoba,” Water First executive director John Millar said in a media release.

“Local, skilled people are critical in maintaining sustained access to clean water.”

Water First said they are also taking steps that would allow more women to take part in the program in Manitoba.

“The Internship also encourages increased participation of women in the water sciences and offers wrap-around supports to reduce barriers to participation, including childcare services and transportation,” Water First said.

The program officially launched in Manitoba on Feb, 12, when 12 interns from several First Nations communities attended an Introduction Week in the Pinaymootang First Nation, and those participants will now work their way through the course.

Each intern will accumulate 1,800 hours of on-the-job experience, according to Water First.

Participants in Manitoba will tour the Lake St. Martin First Nation water treatment plant, a 4,600 square-foot facility that includes an underground concrete reservoir, 14 km of underground piping, a raw water pumphouse and sewage lift station.

More information on the program and on the work done by Water First Education & Training Inc. can be found by visiting waterfirst.ngo.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun