Nominees for the 2023 National First Nations Water Leadership Award


Date: October 4, 2023

The nominees for the 2023 National First Nations Water Leadership Award come from across Canada and represent First Nations individuals, organizations and communities who are innovative, inspirational, knowledgeable and collaborative with others.

More information on each nominee, including personal insights into their day-to-day work, messages for others interested in the water industry and summaries of their nominations, is available on Indigenous Services Canada’s National First Nations Water Leadership Award nominees and recipients web page.

Wilson David – Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (BC)
Wilson David is a champion of water services at Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. He is noted for his steady leadership in the operation of a water treatment plant and his eagerness for emergency planning.

Jim Fox – Toquaht Nation (BC)
Over the past 20 years, Jim Fox has maintained the water systems for the Toquaht Nation. He is nominated for his commitment to the community, working above and beyond during tough winter storms, and for his deep technical knowledge.

Ernie French-Downey – Takla First Nation (BC)
As an elected Takla Nation Councillor and public works manager, Ernie French-Downey is both a skilled water operator and an effective communicator. He encourages his peers to remain steadfast in furthering their education and earn their water utility certifications in order to best serve their communities.

Barnett Stewart – Anspayaxw (Kispiox) Band (BC)
In addition to being the chief operator of the Kispiox Band’s water treatment plant, Barney Stewart is an expert Circuit Rider Trainer. As part of his work with 21 First Nations, he provides operator training, emergency support and consulting on infrastructure projects. Especially for small communities, he emphasizes the importance of an open-door policy with community leadership.

Katy Thorne – Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (BC)
Katy Thorne continues her innovative work at Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, operating and maintaining an extensive wastewater collection system and engaging with community and industry partners on asset management. She notes the vital role of all individuals in learning about, respecting, and advocating for safe drinking water in Canada.

James Arcand – Alexander First Nation (AB)
James Arcand is the capital projects director for Alexander First Nation. He is also a co-leader of the Water Alliance, a grassroots agreement between multiple First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan to improve water quality. Emphasizing the cultural connections between water and communities, he actively promotes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the development of regulations and legislation.

Cody Black Eyes – Piikani Nation (AB)
A driving force behind Piikani Public Works, Cody Black Eyes is known for his diligence and quick responses to overseeing the rural community’s water system. Additionally, he shares insights with new employees in the area of expertise. As he states himself, troubleshooting is his favourite part of the job, “besides a good drink of water.”

CJ Burnstick – Alexander First Nation (AB)
CJ Burnstick serves as a community-based water monitor for Alexander First Nation, protecting the health and safety of community members through his attention to detail with drinking water monitoring and testing. He shows enthusiasm for his in-home service and helps move members from wells to cisterns.

Simon House – Paul First Nation (AB)
Simon House, a water operator for Paul First Nation, has been instrumental in revitalizing the water infrastructure in his community. Along with being a mentor to summer students, he has turned his attention to informational sessions and engagement with school youth on the significance of water in their daily lives.

Chad Simon – Samson Cree Nation (AB)
Chad Simon is the water projects coordinator at Samson Cree Nation, spearheading water and wastewater capital projects as well as transitioning the town’s water systems from reactive to proactive water management. He enjoys learning about water history in his community from local residents.

Marvin Steinhauer – Whitefish Lake First Nation #128 (AB)
Marvin Steinhauer, manager of water and wastewater for Whitefish Lake Band #128, has played a crucial role in planning and constructing a new drinking water system under tight timelines. His foresight, professionalism and willingness to stay the course on water initiatives have earned him respect among his staff, Chief and Council, engineering partners and the broader community.

Swan River First Nation – John Willier, Kris Willier, Kaine Giroux, Styles Giroux (AB)
John Willier, Kris Willier, Kaine Giroux and Styles Giroux participate in water and environmental monitoring research for Swan River First Nation. Building community capacity for scientific programs and forging relationships with the Lesser Slave Watershed Council, independent consultants and the energy industry, the group helps with outreach and habitat restoration throughout the Swan River.

Perrin Janvier – Clearwater River Dene Nation (SK)
Perrin Janvier is a water operator at Clearwater River Dene Nation, ensuring his plant is produces and distributes clean drinking water to residents. Well-organized and focused on results, he encourages others to dedicate themselves as water operators and commit to their community.

Leroy Josie – Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation (SK)
As a water operator and volunteer for nearby First Nations communities, Leroy Josie of Hatchet Lake First Nation has operated many different water treatment systems in Saskatchewan. His calm and collected nature helps guide fellow co-workers through water emergencies, and he is always curious to suggest improvements to management plans.

Nathan Martell – Moosimin First Nation (SK)
Water operator Nathan Martell manages the water treatment plant at Moosimin First Nation and assists as a relief operator to communities off-reserve. He is nominated for his work ethic and prioritization of cost efficiency while maintaining complex systems.

Harlan Flett – Berens River First Nation (MB)
A drinking water quality monitor for Berens River First Nation, Harlan Flett works the extra mile to consistently report sampling results and answer questions about water consumption to his community. He is also keen to adapt to new water testing technologies.

Nathan Copenace – Obashkaandagaang (Washagamis Bay) First Nation (ON)
Nathan Copenace is a water operator for Washagamis Bay First Nation. He is working on call 24/7 to tackle any challenges at his community’s new water treatment plant. He has now set his sights on recruitment, stewardship and education with the goal of increasing public trust, especially as a graduate of Water First’s drinking water internship program and as a public speaker.

Ian Fortin – Chapleau Cree First Nation (ON)
Nominated posthumously by three colleagues, Ian Fortin was a valued, respected and provincially-certified Indigenous water and wastewater operator, as well as an industry advocate and leader. His outstanding dedication to the water industry was evidenced by his involvement as a Circuit Rider Trainer for the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation. In addition to being a water operator for Chapleau Cree First Nation, he made significant contributions as chairperson for the Aboriginal Water and Wastewater Association of Ontario (AWWAO). Dedicated to First Nations water plant operations, he was a familiar face in First Nations communities, sharing his knowledge, resources and best practices with operators across the province. Ian passed away in December 2022.

Kelly LaRocca – Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (ON)
As Chief of Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, Kelly LaRocca was at the forefront of the infrastructure project that helped lift 5 long-term drinking water advisories affecting her community for many years. Through her service on multiple governance boards, she continues to advocate for the expansion of her community’s water and wastewater infrastructure for generations to come, drawing on her ability to reach out to a wide range of stakeholders.

Chevaun Toulouse – Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation (ON)
Chevaun Toulouse from Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation is already making an impact as a species-at-risk technician and Indigenous storyteller. A conservation biology and environmental science student at Trent University, she has received numerous accolades, including the 2023 Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) Protecting Mother Earth Award, for her outreach on protecting the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence watershed. You can see her research in action in Great Lakes Untamed, a 2022 documentary series illustrating the state of the ecosystem.

Shawn Williams – Curve Lake First Nation (ON)
As a water infrastructure coordinator, Shawn Williams has been a tireless fighter for clean water in his community. Now retired, he volunteers his time to support the Curve Lake administration in seeking financing for water and wastewater facilities and arranging for members to receive water operator training.

Public Works Team, Oneida Nation of the Thames – Ron Elijah, Rob Cornelius, Sam George, Leeland "Lee" Doxtator, James "Aaron" Antone (ON)
The Oneida Nation of the Thames Public Works Team―consisting of administrators Ron Elijah, Rob Cornelius, Sam George, Lee Doxtator, and Aaron Antone―are nominated for their mobilization in the face of a long-standing boil water advisory. They act as a bridge between all levels of government, issuing timely updates and assessments while providing much-needed relief to their community. Their nominator noted they are a humble group who find their responsibilities purposeful and rewarding.

Nick Guérin – Manawan, Pakua Shipu & Unamen Shipu (QC)
A water operator for the Atikamekw reserve of Manawan and the Innu communities of Pakua Shipu and Unamen Shipu, Nick Guérin, is nominated for his work to help prevent boil water advisories. As he points out, water operations are important work where you can leverage practical knowledge to impact First Nations.

Gregg Brewer – Tobique (Neqotkuk) First Nation (NB)
Gregg Brewer, the lead water and wastewater operator for Tobique First Nation, has been a pillar in his community, working long hours to ensure a dependable supply of clean and safe drinking water. His knack for problem-solving, positive attitude and all-encompassing efforts have not been unnoticed; he recently accepted a position as a supervisor at the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority (AFNWA), the first Indigenous-owned water utility in Canada.

Valerie Julian-Meader – Millbrook First Nation (NS)
Valerie Julian-Meader is a community-based water monitor for Millbrook First Nation. A studious record keeper, she works closely with health officers to execute testing and water treatment processes. In addition, Valerie has shared her experiences at training sessions for water monitors, showing the intricacies of the science behind water collection and analysis.

North Shore Micmac District Council (ATL)
The North Shore Micmac District Council was nominated for facilitating water operator training.

List of previous recipients of the National First Nations Water Leadership Award:

  • As the recipient of the 2022 award, Brian Indian served as the primary water operator of Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, ON, with nearly two decades of experience mentoring operators-in-training and organizing “Water Awareness” days for his community.
  • The 2021 recipient was Jonathan Riberdy, a water operator in Zhiibaahaasing First Nation, ON. Jonathan worked alongside his Chief and Council to implement long-term solutions that provide safe and clean drinking water for his community, and he strives to share his knowledge with others.
  • The 2020 recipient was Éric Sioui, a Circuit Rider Training Program coordinator from Wendake, QC, recognized for his leadership and sharing his expertise with other First Nations water operators across Quebec through the Circuit Rider Training Program.
  • The 2019 recipient was Deon Hassler, a First Nations military veteran and former water operator in his home community of Carry the Kettle, SK.
  • The inaugural recipient of the National First Nations Water Leadership Award in 2018 was Lorraine Crane, Chief of Slate Falls Nation, ON, in recognition of her outstanding leadership and dedication to the advancement of clean drinking water in her community.

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