Indigenous knowledge to help solve water issues

August 27th, 2013 · No Comments · Aboriginal, Engineering, Environment and Geography, Health, Indigenous, Natural Resources Institute, News Release, Outreach, Peace and Justice, Research, Students, economics, graduate studies, human ecology, infrastructure, sustainability

First Nations science and engineering students will be at the forefront of tackling multi-billion-dollar water services gaps in their communities.

University of Manitoba soil scientist Dr. Annemieke Farenhorst will lead the $2.976-million H2O CREATE program, with assistance from the university’s Centre for Human Rights Research and in collaboration with Trent University, University College of the North, the Assembly of First Nations and industry partners.

H2O program students, including many who are Indigenous, will assist First Nations, water treatment system manufacturers and engineering firms at a crucial time when residents of 113 First Nations across Canada are unable to drink their tap water.

“We are honoured to host a research training program that is so important to people living in our region,” said Dr. Digvir Jayas, Vice-President (Research and International) at the University of Manitoba. “Three-quarters of the First Nations homes without running water are in Manitoba and Ontario.”

The H2O Program for Water and Sanitation Security was recently awarded $1.65 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). CREATE H2O is one of 15 projects funded cross-Canada designed to help young researchers learn specialized skills while addressing some of the country’s biggest challenges.

“The best CREATE H2O research projects will be those that First Nations initiate when they identify a need in their communities and are willing to help our students learn,” Farenhorst said.

The NSERC CREATE initiative is designed to help science and engineering graduates add to their academic achievements valuable job skills necessary in today’s labour market. The funded networks are led by teams of Canadian university researchers who will help students develop leadership, entrepreneurship, communication and project management skills.

“This team-based training is providing a valuable experience for students and postdoctoral fellows to learn practical skills and to engage in cutting-edge, multidisciplinary and, in some cases, international research,” said Isabelle Blain, Vice-President of Research Grants and Scholarships at
NSERC. “Exposing our trainees to an innovative, collaborative training environment will enable them to succeed in careers that contribute to the world’s top research.”

For more information on the CREATE H2O project, visit:

Students interested in applying to the H2O CREATE program and First Nations with research project ideas can contact program co-ordinator Wendy Ross at

NSERC is a federal agency that helps make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for all Canadians. The agency supports almost 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding approximately 12,000 professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging over 2,400 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects.

For more information, please contact Janine Harasymchuk, marketing communications office, University of Manitoba, Tel: 204-474-7300


The H20 CREATE program for water and sanitation security is designed to address research science and training gaps that are preventing effective, culturally appropriate investments in water and sanitation security on First Nations reserves. We aim to reduce the $4.7 billion that would be required to bring drinking water and wastewater infrastructure for all First Nations reserves up to safe standards using current technologies and approaches.

The program will train at least 51 undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, many of whom will be Aboriginal. It brings together a team of 23 researchers in natural sciences and engineering (NSE) and non-NSE fields from the University of Manitoba, Trent University’s Institute for Watershed Science and Indigenous Environmental Studies Program, and University College of the North.

The H20 CREATE program will be the first science-engineering research training program in Canada to combine technical water and wastewater management training with Indigenous theory, law and methodological skills training. Trainee research projects will focus on current and alternative systems and technologies for domestic water and wastewater treatment; pathogens and chemical contaminants in drinking and source water; risk assessment and protection planning for watersheds using spatial tools; and improving the scientific basis for water and wastewater regulations.

Training will emphasize interdisciplinary teamwork and include work term options with engineering and environmental consulting firms and tribal councils. H2O CREATE trainees will be in high demand for employment in the water and wastewater industry in Canada. The program aligns with NSERC’s environmental science and technology target area, in particular ensuring secure community water systems in northern and remote communities and enhancing aquatic ecosystem services. H2O CREATE graduates will assist First Nations, manufacturers of water and wastewater treatment systems, engineering and environmental firms and government policy analysts at a crucial time when First Nations drinking water regulations are coming into effect for the first time.

Indigenous partners:

Assembly of First Nations,
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs,
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak,
Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources,
Manitoba First Nations Water and Wastewater Instruction Program,
Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation,
Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation.

Other non-profit partners:

Public Interest Law Centre,
International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Industry partners:

Neegan Burnside
Friends of Engineering Manitoba

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