A new partnership between the Bimose Tribal Council and Water First will deliver a drinking water treatment and environmental water management internship program for young Indigenous adults.

“Bimose’s communities appreciate the emphasis on training young people,” said Phil Tangie of the Bimose Tribal Council. “Staff at the water treatment plants are doing a great job with the resources they have, but we need more young people entering the water field. By partnering with Water First and the internship program, we’re able to address this challenge directly. It’s going really well so far, and we hope funding for this program will continue.”

Fourteen interns have been recruited from 10 participating First Nations communities across the Bimose Tribal Coucil’s region in northwestern Ontario. The interns will pursue Operator in Training (OIT) and Water Quality Analyst (WQA) certifications in their efforts to address water challenges.

The Bimose Tribal Council received funding and approval from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) for the first six months of the full 18-month project. With full ISC funding, each intern will accumulate 1,800 hours of on-the-job experience in water treatment plants, which is a requirement for them to become level one operators. Through the 18-month program, interns will also pursue their Water Quality Analyst certification, which can lead to work in both water treatment and the environmental water field.

“Regardless of whether this is an intern’s first job, or their previous job was at the local gas station, this training program is designed to support and empower young Indigenous adults to become certified drinking water operators and environmental water professionals,” said John Millar, executive director of Water First.

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The Bimose project began in February 2020 on the heels of a successful pilot project between Water First and seven First Nations on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Together with the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnissing, Wiikwemkoong First Nation, Anishinabek Nation, the partners trained 10 young Indigenous in drinking water and environmental water management. Within weeks of graduating, eight of 10 interns secured work at their local water treatment plants or in the environmental water field. One graduate pursued further water studies in college.

Amy Waboose from Whitefish River First Nation, a graduate of the Water First internship program, now works at her local water treatment plant. “I came here for a job and ended with a career,” said Waboose. “This training program changed my life and if the next group of interns works hard and sticks with it, it could change their lives too.”

Waboose and Paige Manitowabi from Wiikwemikoong First Nation, both of whom graduated from the program, attended the first day of training with the new group of interns in Kenora. Waboose and Manitowabi assured the students that they have been in their shoes before and that with some support and determination, they too can succeed at becoming water professional.

Many First Nations with drinking water challenges have identified the need for more young, qualified, and local personnel to help address water issues independently and for the longer term. Indigenous communities do not receive adequate support for education, training, and employment that can help attract and retain young people in the water field. These supports are critical in ensuring the long-term sustainability of Indigenous drinking water systems.

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The Bimose Tribal Council, based out of Kenora in Ontario, has eight member First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario. The name Bimose comes from the Anishinaabe word “to walk” and was given by an elder as a reminder to “always walk with all our Member First Nations.”

Water First is a registered Canadian charity that addresses water challenges in First Nations communities through education, training, and meaningful collaboration. Water First has partnered with over 50 First Nations in Canada.

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