| Atlantic Canada First Nation communities move toward independent water and wastewater service delivery
AWWA Articles

Atlantic Canada First Nation communities move toward independent water and wastewater service delivery

Fifteen First Nation communities in the Maritime provinces of Eastern Canada have launched a groundbreaking initiative to transfer control and management of their water and wastewater services from the Canadian government to an independent, First Nation owned and operated water authority.

AFNWA LogoAn agreement signed last summer creates a framework for transferring drinking water and wastewater operations for more than 4,500 households and businesses in Indigenous communities to the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority (AFNWA), a central water authority established in 2018. This is the first framework agreement for a First Nation-led water authority in Canada.

Carl YatesThe AFNWA Board of Directors consist of five Chiefs who represent the participating communities. Carl Yates (pictured left), former general manager of Halifax Water and an active member of AWWA and the Atlantic Canada Section, was appointed by the AFNWA Board as AFNWA’s interim chief executive officer. AFNWA, an AWWA utility member, is the first Indigenous-led water authority.

“This is a unique opportunity for First Nations to take control of a service critical to the social, economic and environmental well-being of their communities,” Yates said. “The AFNWA will be blazing a trail for others to follow.”

The agreement includes a $2.5 million federal investment to support AFNWA’s recruitment, staff training and other operational costs. Yates, who will step down from his interim role when an Indigenous candidate is hired, said the water authority will be negotiating with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) regarding a long-term funding arrangement and operational details.

Artist's imageThe image at right is an artist’s storyboard example of Two-Eyed Seeing, a concept of utilizing Western methods with traditional Indigenous knowledge. It illustrates AFNWA’s hub-and-spoke service model flowing with its leadership, the Board of Directors, steered by the Elders Advisory Committee, in a traditional birchbark canoe.

Officials with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs Secretariat (APC) established AFNWA to enable First Nation communities to gain greater control over their water quality and health, and to address the cycle of project-by-project, year-by-year funding. The water authority will be in charge of upgrading, managing and maintaining water and wastewater services for about 60 percent of First Nations living on reserves in the region.

Graham GagnonAnother AWWA member, Dr. Graham Gagnon (pictured left), with Dalhousie University’s Centre for Water Resources Studies, worked with APC to develop a comprehensive water strategy for the Atlantic region. As director of the Centre, Gagnon worked to establish the First Nations Clean Water Initiative – Atlantic Region, a collaborative effort between the Atlantic Policy Congress, interested First Nations and ISC to ensure safe drinking water for First Nation communities.

That initiative played a key role in several years of community engagements that informed the design of AFNWA’s “hub-and-spoke” delivery model, which has the capacity to integrate other Atlantic First Nation communities into the utility.

In addition, Gagnon said, AFNWA is an opportunity for the development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) based training to enable First Nation engineers, scientists, operators and other professionals to solve water challenges for their communities.