Indigenous students explore watershed health and water quality

By Shazia Nazir / Local Journalism Initiative
World Nature Conservation Day emphasizes the need for more opportunities to empower Indigenous youth to develop an interest in and cultivate a passion for water science. 
With a Seed grant of $71,700 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Water First has motivated and engaged Indigenous students to become water scientists. Through discussion with Indigenous community partners, Water First has delivered a series of in-person and virtual conservation workshops to explore water quality and watershed health through project-based and experiential.
Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, recognized the grant and said, “I am quite excited to observe the stages of this outstanding initiative moving forward. I have long admired the understanding, respect, and connection that Indigenous Elders have passed down to youth throughout the ages. We all must understand that water-is-life. Knowing that there is support for our youth to be educated and encouraged to step up and take an active role is truly outstanding.” MPP Mantha explained that “by ensuring Ontarians will always have access to a healthy and sustainable source of clean water, it gives all of us reason for hope for a better future.”
The OTF grant’s impact is tremendous in the community. The organization delivers over six weeks of in-person and virtual water science programming to 120 students from Christian Island Elementary School in Beausoleil First Nation and Biidaaban Kinoomaagegamik School in Sagamok First Nation. From November 2019 to March 2021, Indigenous students had the opportunity to learn about hydrology and watershed ecology while further developing their relationships with water and their lands.
“Even before the first workshop, we were excited with all of the breadth of learning resources that were provided,” shared Lindsay Lefebvre, grade six teacher at Biidaaban Kinoomaagegamik School. “Water First delivered a great program in a challenging time to deliver engaging learning experiences.”
Certified educators at Water First have developed programs that create opportunities for students to reinforce their relationships with the environment and promote a love of education and water science. Designed for learners from kindergarten to grade 12, Water First presents hands-on STEM workshops that explore local curriculum-based water science concepts. 
Students spend time on the land and in the classroom examining a broad range of water quality factors, including any specific local water health concerns and relevant Traditional Ecological Knowledge. They also learn about their role in protecting their water resources as students and as young professionals.
“With the underrepresentation of Indigenous youth voices in the water sciences here in Canada and the water challenges faced by many of these communities, it is critical that we offer Indigenous students the most impassioned, empowering, thorough and exciting water science education learning opportunities possible,” said Dillon Koopmans, Water First Educational Programs Manager.