Pilot project trains Indigenous youth to help tackle water challenges in their communities

A pilot project on Manitoulin Island in giving a group of Indigenous youth the skills and training to ensure their communities have quality drinking water.

15-month paid internship offered through Canadian charity Water First

A group of young people on Manitoulin Island is finishing up a 15-month paid internship to become certified in drinking water treatment and water quality monitoring. (Water First/Supplied)

A pilot project on Manitoulin Island is giving a group of Indigenous youth the skills and training to ensure their communities have quality drinking water.

Ten young people from First Nations around the Island are finishing up a 15-month paid internship through Water First, a Canadian charity dedicated to helping First Nations solve their water challenges.

Kendra Driscoll, a water quality specialist with the organization, said the interns split their time between week-long workshops and regular hands-on training at their local water treatment plants, all while working towards certification to become water plant operators.

"What this program was focused on was the Water Quality Analyst, a provincially recognized certification," Driscoll explained.

"They have to take the examination through the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and then they're certified to do drinking water testing."

Ten Indigenous youth participated in the Water First Internship program, with several earning provincial certification to work in water treatment plants. (Water First/Supplied)

Eight interns have since earned that certification, and Driscoll said several have also attempted to gain further certification through the Operator-in-Training exam.

The program also explored a wide range of topics relating to water quality and protection, including mapping, traditional knowledge and environmental science.

Driscoll said there is an underrepresentation of First Nation and Indigenous youth in the water sciences, and the goal of the program was to engage young people who may be interested in a career in water treatment.

"There was a real want for this program," she said.

"When we started the hiring and interviewing process, we found lots of people who were very interested in making this a career. Many of them are very passionate about water protection."

The Water First interns collected water and sediment samples around Manitoulin Island for a workshop on environmental monitoring in July. (Water First/Supplied)

The pilot was developed in partnership with the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising, Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation, and the Anishnabek Union of Ontario Indians.

Driscoll said Water First hopes to build on its success going forward, and bring the internship to other communities.

"We need more Indigenous leaders in this field and working in their water treatment plants. And those are the people who want to stay and work in their home communities, and provide their communities with safe, clean drinking water."

A graduation ceremony for the interns will be held August 30 at the Aundeck Omni Kaning pow wow grounds on Manitoulin Island.