Volunteer professional videographer Ben Grayzel, alongside expert water operator Warren Brown of Lytton First Nations, shooting for the video learning library.

March 22, 2021

Water is a human right: Water Movement dives into water crises affecting Indigenous populations

World Water Day event March 22 highlights injustices facing communities under boil water advisories across Canada

Your alarm goes off for work and you roll out of bed, making your way to the kitchen. Once you get there you pour a glass of water, quenching your thirst from the night before as you begin washing fruit for your breakfast. Next, you rinse a few dishes before heading to the bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth. By the time you leave for work, you have probably turned your tap on at least six times without giving it a second thought.

For most people, this simple routine is so commonplace that we take it for granted. But for 38 Indigenous communities across Canada, this is not the reality. The water they need for drinking, washing and bathing must first be boiled for at least one minute until it is safe to use.

“I think water should be the right of all our people, regardless of how many people are living on a certain reserve. If there is an accessible water source then they should be doing what they can to provide potable drinking water for that community,” says Warren Brown, manager of Lytton First Nation O&M Department Operation.

Brown will be speaking about his experiences as a water operator Monday, March 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. MST at the Water Movement: H2Onwards towards Indigenous Water Sovereignty event in honour of World Water Day alongside fellow Water Movement members Deon Hassler, Candace Cook and Bita Malekian.

  • Photo above: Volunteer professional videographer Ben Grayzel, alongside expert water operator Warren Brown of Lytton First Nations, shooting for the video learning library.

World Water Day is education opportunity for all Canadians

World Water Day is dedicated to exploring what water means to people, its true value and how we can better protect this vital resource. But for Bita Malekian, UCalgary master's student and founder of Water Movement, the day serves as an opportunity to educate Canadians about the inequalities and injustices facing Indigenous communities living under boil water advisories.

Have you heard of the famous saying, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?’ Canada's boil water advisories are injustices. Everyone has a right to clean water. This issue should not just be important to me, it should be important to everyone.

When asked what inspired her to start this venture, Malekian says the problem Water Movement is working to address shouldn’t even exist.

“As a country with 20 per cent of the world's fresh water and the third-largest renewable supply of fresh water, why do we have 58 long-term boil water advisories?” asks Malekian. Water Movement’s devoted team of volunteer industry professionals and students from the University of Calgary spent two years investigating this question. The answer? There are several systematic and interrelated issues causing water crises in Canada.

Water operators are first line of defense

Water operators are the first line of defense in mitigating water plant failures. "Ensuring the health and safety of a community's water supply is a role I take very seriously,” says Deon Hassler, a circuit rider trainer for File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council from the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation. In focusing their research on water facility operations and maintenance and connecting with expert Indigenous water operators in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Water Movement found themes in the challenges facing operators: training, collaboration and retention.

Once these challenges were identified, Water Movement developed an online platform where Indigenous water operators can connect, ask questions, share lessons learned, access training videos, and spotlight exemplary operators in their communities.

To guide its mission and values of serving Indigenous communities, Water Movement has an all-Indigenous board of directors including experts like Brown and Hassler. Malekian describes operators as everyday heroes in their communities.

“Their knowledge and expertise have made them admirable and prominent leaders in the water sector. They're the ones doing all the work. They're the ones holding the keys to this problem. All Water Movement is doing is creating an accessible space for them to share their knowledge with operators across the country.”

With many boil water advisories still active, Malekian knows Water Movement’s work is far from over. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure everyone has access to clean drinking water. We need innovation from engineers, better legislation from our policy-makers, and we need more water education in schools. To solve one of the biggest challenges our society faces, we need big thinkers, action makers, and visionaries. We need everyone. We need you.”

About Water Movement

Based in Calgary, Water Movement fills a void in an often-fragmented industry and bridges the connection between Indigenous water operators whose work is vital to the health and well-being of countless communities. Through the joint efforts of industry professionals and university students, it provides a collaborative online space where operators can connect, share lessons learned and access training videos that act as educational tools. In addition to providing resources and an interactive collaboration zone for those in the industry, Water Movement seeks to raise awareness among the next generation of water leaders. The free program connects with youth through virtual workshops for students of all ages. It’s designed to educate kids about water in Canada, careers in engineering and the water sector. Lastly, once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, wastewater treatment plant tours will also be available as part of the youth program. Find more information here.

The World Water Day event was funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sustainable Development Goals. The initiatives highlighted within this article connect to SDGs 6, 9, 10 and 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The University of Calgary’s Institutional Sustainability Strategy provides a road map for continuous improvement in our pursuit of excellence and leadership in sustainability. We aim to be a Canadian post-secondary education leader in sustainability in our academic and engagement programs, administrative and operational practices and through supporting community and industry in their aims for leadership in sustainability. Learn more about UCalgary’s leadership in sustainability.