Dalhousie partners with Atlantic First Nations Water Authority to create new path forward

Elder Methilda Knockwood-Snache, Chair of the AFNWA’s Elders Advisory Lodge with Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services. Photo Credit: (AFNWA)

A new $4.3-million federal grant will allow Dalhousie University to support  the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority (AFNWA) to successfully deliver its mandate as the first Indigenous-owned water authority in Canada. 

The Alliance-Mitacs Accelerate Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will help to train a new generation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous engineers and other professionals for the water authority’s long-term success. 

The partnership will support 20 graduate and postdoctoral research trainees, 15 undergraduate interns, and 35 First Nations high school students from Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqey First Nations, according to an announcement from Dalhousie University. 

Since late 2022, a dozen of the 34 First Nations located in Atlantic Canada have joined the AFNWA, with two more expected to join later this year.  

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Dalhousie researchers and students will also conduct a world-leading study with the AFNWA focused on the implementation of UV LEDs for drinking water and wastewater disinfection. 

“It’s very exciting because the AFNWA is essentially going to be leading the water community in North America in this trial,” announced Dr. Graham Gagnon, director of Dalhousie’s Centre for Water Resource Studies, who is leading the university’s partnership with AFNWA. “It’s based on principles and values that they have in terms of sustainability. And it’s very exciting for us to be a part of this study, guided by their strong vision and values, to make advances that matter.” 

Dr. Gagnon will be joined by Dr. Megan Fuller, director of research for the AFNWA at Dalhousie’s Centre for Water Resource Studies, and Dr. Amina Stoddart, Canada Research Chair in Wastewater Treatment Technology and Surveillance, who will evaluate infrastructure and process needs. Dr. Chad Walker from Dalhousie’s School of Planning will contribute to developing Indigenous-led governance and community engagement for the AFNWA. 

“There are 10 years of capital upgrades that are coming down the pike for these communities,” Dr. Fuller announced.So, Dal’s Centre for Water Resource Studies and the Indigenous and non-Indigenous trainees associated with this work are going to think about what good treatment looks like and what treatment processes should be employed, so that investments can be made to ensure drinking water is safe and clean for everyone,” she added. 

In addition to building new education and training pathways for Indigenous students, the partnership will create a course at Dalhousie focused on integrating Indigenous Ways of Knowing into the current engineering curriculum.   

Chairperson of the AFNWA’s Elders Advisory Lodge, Elder Methilda Knockwood-Snache, says the new class will be the first of its kind.   

“The concept of Two-Eyed Seeing —  seeing Western science and traditional Indigenous knowledge as equals — is much needed for youth to understand where they came from and have pride in who they are,” Knockwood-Snache announced in a statement. “This class will teach new perspectives and allow students to work together and be the change we want to see. This type of work is the work I live for.”  

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