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Sask. First Nations gather for water conference

People from across the province are in Saskatoon this week with the goal of ensuring safe, clean drinking water in First Nation communities.

Around 200 participants have gathered for the AGM, conference, trade show and banquet of the Saskatchewan First Nations Water Association (SFNWA).

Organizers say the chance to interact with operators on the ground has been a long time coming.

“One of the goals of this organization is to hear from the people who are on the ground,” said Rebecca Zagozewski, executive director of SFNWA. “We’re very bottom up, ground level, trying to be hearing from the membership. They’re going to drive what it is that we do.”

With water security in First Nation communities a top priority, the water plant operator’s role is elevated.

“The water plant operator on First Nations is one of the more crucial and most important jobs in the community I think,” said Ira Aisaican, vice-president of SFNWA. “They’re the first line of defense in health. If there’s a waterborne disease, the water plant operator will be the first one to know and notify the community. So they have a very important job.”

The event began Monday with some operators taking certification exams, as well as a social event including a teepee raising ceremony in the Bessborough Gardens.

Zagozewski says it’s a unique opportunity to combine technical training and knowledge with the cultural, spiritual and relational significance of water in First Nations communities.

“We’re trying to bring it all together,” Zagozewski told CTV News. “I really feel that’s the only way that you can see the full picture. You get the very detailed understanding of water and operations and management, but then you also need to have values attached to it.”

Before the afternoon sessions, a friendly competition was held with a panel of judges choosing the best water out of 20 entrants.

“We wanted to make sure that the operators have pride in the water they’re producing in their communities,” said Deon Hassler, president of SFNWA. “And making sure that the other communities understand that the operators are doing their best to produce the best, safe, healthy water in their communities. We want to make sure we bring out the pride of these operators. They’re doing an excellent job and the community’s got to see that.”

And win or lose, Aisaican says it’s great to see people competing to make their water the best for their community.

“You can’t be faulted for trying your best,” he said. “And if it’s not the best tasting water at the competition, at least we know that the interest is there, that they’re trying their best to get the best water for their community.”

The event wraps up Thursday afternoon. Top Stories

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