Achieving menstrual equity is more than increasing access to period products. Menstrual equity means we must also ensure there’s equal and equitable access to sanitation and waste management through resources like toilets and clean water. 

In many Indigenous communities across Canada, tap water is not clean. The water challenges faced by many Indigenous communities range from issues in infrastructure, to capacity and training.

In honor of Earth Day, we’re making a $7,500 donation to Water First in support of their Drinking Water Internship program. Water First is a Canadian organization dedicated to working with Indigenous communities to address local water challenges through education, training, and meaningful collaboration. We talked to Sam Murray, Water First’s Development Manager, to learn more about water challenges in Indigenous communities and how we can help. 

Diva: To start, can you tell us a little bit about Water First? 

Sam Murray: In numerous Indigenous communities across Canada, tap water is not safe to drink. Water First Training & Education Inc. is Canada’s leading charitable organization dedicated to working with Indigenous communities to address local water challenges through education, training, and meaningful collaboration. The Drinking Water Internship hires and trains young Indigenous adults for careers in water science. It’s welcomed by Indigenous communities that view training and skill development as a key part of the solution to drinking water challenges. The Environmental Water Program engages young Indigenous adults in technical skills training and project-based programs that help communities to best manage water resources. Finally, the Indigenous Schools Water Program inspires Indigenous youth to pursue careers in water science through hands-on water science workshops, in the classroom and out on the land.

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website at waterfirst.ngo.

Diva: What should every Canadian know about the state of sustainable access to safe, clean water in this country? 

Sam Murray: Nobody understands the evolving challenges and needs of Indigenous communities more than the people who live there. Understanding what community members have to say about their priorities has been the catalyst for building lasting solutions.

One of the most fundamental challenges in Canada today is the lack of sustainable access to safe, clean water in many Indigenous communities. In Canada, 15% of Indigenous communities are under a drinking water advisory. In Ontario – it’s 35%. Drinking water challenges are complex: in some communities local concerns may be around infrastructure, for others, source water contamination. And many communities have challenges recruiting and training young Indigenous adults to join the drinking water field.

Diva: What is being done to solve some of these problems? 

Sam Murray: Technology and infrastructure alone are not enough. The people who run and maintain the systems are critical. Existing water treatment staff are doing a great job with available resources. However, many Indigenous communities have identified the need for more young, local, qualified personnel to support solving water issues, independently and for the long term.

Education and training are vital in ensuring access to clean drinking water. There are not enough local opportunities for young Indigenous adults to gain the required training, skills, and experience to become water operators. Water First’s Drinking Water Program is designed to bring technical training opportunities directly to communities. This program supports young Indigenous adults through a locally-based, paid internship to become certified water treatment plant operators.

To learn more about the Drinking Water Internship please check out our video here.

Diva: How can people help?

Sam Murray: Educating yourself is one of the best ways to help support access to clean drinking water. Water First has a great page on our website for suggestions of resources to learn more here. Another great charity that is offering resources to learn more is Indspire.

If you have the time, a great educational resource is the University of Alberta course called “Indigenous Canada” that explores the different histories and contemporary perspectives of Indigenous peoples living in Canada. Additionally, we encourage you to check out our website and consider a donation in support of our work in collaboration with Indigenous communities: https://waterfirst.ngo/