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Ojibways of Onigaming water operator wins national First Nations water award

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Brian Indian, received the 2022 National First Nations Water Leadership Award. Photo credit: Government of Canada Information on and for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, via Twitter

Brian Indian from Ontario’s Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, near Kenora and the Manitoba border, has won the 2022 National First Nations Water Leadership Award for his dedication to mentoring and educating youth about the importance of clean drinking water.

Indian has 17 years of experience in the industry and is one of the only certified Level 3 water treatment operators in his community of about 700 residents.

“My favourite part of the day is in the morning, looking at the data and seeing that everything ran the way it is supposed to, and the community’s water is safe and potable to consume,” explained Indian, in a statement about the award.

Indian, despite challenges with Parkinson’s disease, is currently mentoring two operators-in-training and organizes “Water Awareness” days to educate youth in his community by providing tours of the water plant. He has no backup or relief operators yet, but he hopes the mentorships may eventually fill that gap.

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As the 2022 winner, Indian will receive a trophy and a piece of Indigenous artwork. He was nominated by Phil Tangie of the Anishinaabeg of Kabapikotawangag Resource Council.

One of the biggest challenges for Indian is working with outdated technology.

“The biggest need in our community is upgrading our aging plant,” he told Indigenous Services Canada. “The ozone system is 16 years old and a lot of parts are obsolete and no longer exist,” he said.

Indian said he ran the water treatment plant in manual mode for an entire year until funding came through for a SCADA system.

“This is when I began to push for our tribal council to try and get [Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation] HUB water support,” explained Indian.

A total of $10,000 in bursaries will be made available in Indian’s name to First Nations individuals interested in pursuing or furthering their career in the water and wastewater industry. The Circuit Rider Trainer Professional Association is responsible for administering the bursaries.

The 2021 recipient was Jonathan Riberdy, a water operator from Ontario’s Zhiibaahaasing First Nation, who worked alongside his Chief and Council to implement long-term solutions that provided safe and clean drinking water to his community, despite challenging weather conditions.

All nominees for the 2022 award receive a pin designed by an Indigenous company. This year’s nominees were reviewed by an advisory committee formed of First Nations partners and the previous year’s winner.

The nomination period for the 2023 National First Nations Water Leadership Award will be from January 2 to March 31, 2023 . The nomination process is outlined at the National First Nations Water Leadership Award site.

The award began in 2018.

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