New First Nations water operator internships underway in Ontario

Water First interns group shot
The new group of Bimose interns sample lake water together with Bimose and Water First staff, and previous program graduates. Photo credit: Bimose Tribal Council

A new 18-month drinking water treatment and environmental water management internship program for young Indigenous adults near the Manitoba-Ontario border is now being funded by Indigenous Services Canada.

Fourteen interns have been recruited from 10 participating First Nations communities across Ontario’s Bimose Tribal Council region, near Kenora, Ontario, to address water challenges through the pursuit of Operator in Training (OIT) and Water Quality Analyst (WQA) certifications, according to an announcement by the Council. 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 I operators. 

“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,” Water First’s executive director John Millar told media. 

The Bimose project began in February 2020, on the heels of a successful pilot project between Water First and seven First Nations on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island. Ten young Indigenous adults were trained in drinking water and environmental water management. Within weeks of graduating, eight out of ten interns secured work in their local water treatment plants or in the environmental water field. One graduate pursued further water studies at college. 

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“Bimose’s communities appreciate the emphasis on training young people,” announced 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 the program will continue,” he added. 

Amy Waboose, from Whitefish River First Nation, is a graduate of the Water First internship program and now works at her local water treatment plant. “I came here for a job and ended with a career,” Waboose told the program’s leaders. “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 co-graduate Paige Manitowabi, from Wiikwemkoong First Nation, attended the first day of training with the new group of interns in Kenora and assured the students that with some support and determination, they too can succeed at becoming water professionals. 

For updates on First Nations water advisories, please click here.

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