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Media release: New $4.3 million grant powers partnership between Atlantic First Nations Water Authority and Dalhousie University to deliver world‑class water treatment

Posted by Communications and Marketing on April 24, 2024 in News

A new $4.3 million NSERC Alliance-Mitacs Accelerate Grant will support a partnership between the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority (AFNWA) and Dalhousie University to help the organization in its mission to deliver world-class drinking water and wastewater treatment guided by Indigenous knowledge and values.  

The new partnership will support the AFNWA in improving the quality and sustainability of its infrastructure, strengthening safety and risk management, and engaging community members to ensure they are informed and empowered.

Underpinning the priorities of the partnership is a plan to train a new generation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous engineers and other professionals for the water authority’s long-term success. This will include 20 graduate and postdoctoral research trainees, 15 undergraduate interns, and 35 First Nations high school students from Mi'kmaq and Wolastoqey First Nations.

Chief Wilbert Marshall, chair of the AFNWA board of directors says, “Training students, with a focus on recruiting and training Indigenous students, will help build a strong foundation and set the AFNWA up for long-term success.” He adds that new opportunities for First Nations students for training and employment will also be beneficial to communities they serve.

The AFNWA made history in 2018 by incorporating as the first Indigenous-owned and -led water authority in Canada. Since late 2022, 12 of the 34 First Nations located in Atlantic Canada joined the AFNWA, with two more expected to join this year. 

“First Nations representatives from every region in Canada have reached out to the AFNWA to discuss our model and how it could be applied in their region,” says James MacKinnon, the AFNWA’s director of engagement and government relations.

Dr. Graham Gagnon, director of Dalhousie’s Centre for Water Resource Studies (CWRS), leads the university’s partnership with AFNWA. He is joined by Dr. Megan Fuller, director of research for the AFNWA at the CWRS, and Dr. Amina Stoddart, Canada Research Chair in Wastewater Treatment Technology and Surveillance, who will evaluate infrastructure and process needs. Dr. Chad Walker from Dalhousie’s School of Planning will contribute to developing Indigenous-led governance and community engagement for the AFNWA.

In addition to building new education and training pathways for Indigenous students, the partnership will create a course at Dalhousie focused on integrating Indigenous Ways of Knowing into the current engineering curriculum.  

“This will be the first class of its kind and I want students to take away everything they can,” says Elder Methilda Knockwood-Snache, chair of the AFNWA’s Elders Advisory Lodge. “The concept of Two-Eyed Seeing – seeing western science and traditional Indigenous knowledge as equals – is much needed for youth to understand where they came from and have pride in who they are. This class will teach new perspectives and allow students to work together and be the change we want to see. This type of work is the work I live for.” 

Once students have the necessary background in Two-Eyed Seeing, they will take leading roles in helping to answer high-priority research questions the AFNWA wants to address. This includes contending with how best to make capital upgrades and conducting a corrosion control program to limit lead exposure through drinking water in member communities. 

“There are 10 years of capital upgrades that are coming down the pike for these communities. So, Dal’s Centre for Water Resource Studies and the Indigenous and non-Indigenous trainees associated with this work are going to think about what good treatment looks like and what treatment processes should be employed, so that investments can be made to ensure drinking water is safe and clean for everyone,” says Dr. Fuller

Dal researchers and students will also conduct a world-leading study with the AFNWA focused on the implementation of UV light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for drinking water and wastewater disinfection.

“It's very exciting because the AFNWA is essentially going to be leading the water community in North America in this trial,” says Dr. Gagnon. “It's based on principles and values that they have in terms of sustainability. And it's very exciting for us to be a part of this study, guided by their strong vision and values, to make advances that matter.”

Read more via Dal News:


Media contacts:

Andrew Riley
Senior manager, research and innovation communications
Dalhousie University

Adam Gould
Manager of Communications and Outreach
Atlantic First Nations Water Authority


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