An organization in “B.C.” is working to empower Indigenous communities to solve water solutions through the creative minds of their own youth.
The Indigenous Youth Potable Water Innovation Challenge is awarding $15,000 to groups of youth to come up with water solutions in their own communities.
The organization behind the challenge, RESEAU Centre for Mobilizing Innovation (RESEAU-CMI), is a non-profit centre of excellence hosted by the University of British Columbia (UBC). The idea is to get more Indigenous Youth involved in solving water solutions. They’re using this as an opportunity to challenge them, and help facilitate access for the youth to work alongside expert scientists and innovators. while also supporting them with scientists and innovators.
They explained in conversation with IndigiNews that they also hope this helps the 34 Indigenous communities across Canada that are constantly under boil water advisories.
Growing up in the lower mainland away from her own community, Kimberley Brown, who is from Lax Kw’alaams territory in the northwestern interior, didn’t think that a career in water was possible.
“I don’t think youth know you can have a job in water, or that you can be involved in your community through water,” she said.
Kimberley, who is a mixed Northwestern European and Tsimshian engineer, has been submerged in the world of water engineering since graduating from UBC in 2019. Her graduation project, which she worked on through RESEAU, involved creating a sea can-sized water treatment facility for a remote community in northern “B.C.”
She now specializes in two areas of work: water treatment plants, and Indigenous community infrastructure. And, she’s helping lead this Youth-focused project, which she hopes will inspire more Indigenous Youth to become involved in water science.
The Indigenous Youth Potable Water Innovation Challenge is a recently-launched pilot program, and there are still several opportunities left to get involved, as of June 2022.
With up to $20,000 ($15,000 for the idea, $5,000 in administration support) in available funding per community, money can go towards paying Youth to problem-solve as they work together to brainstorm solutions for clean water in their communities. Assisted by scientists, entrepreneurs and experts from the water industry, Youth will workshop their ideas before presenting them to their community.
Their brainstormed ideas could eventually be implemented into real-world solutions that help their communities.
According to RESEAU-CMI, the Youths’ ideas will be judged by their own community as well as an Indigenous Advisory Council, which is overseeing the program development.
Outside of supporting the teams through experts in the field, once the money is awarded, RESEAU-CMI steps back. Communities, they explained, are free to use that money how they see fit.
“It’s all very based off of self-determination [and] self-governance,” said Kimberley.
“Maybe they want to take that $15,000 and split it up between scholarships for those kids. That’s really not our decision.”
All communities deserve successful water solutions
While the organization hopes to get up to eight communities involved, they won’t be forcing them to compete against each other. They want every community to succeed in finding solutions.
“The evaluation will be by the community — like the leaders themselves,” said Kimberley.
Already, RESEAU-CMI is receiving pitches.
Kimberley shared an idea presented by a group of eight youth in grades 9-12 from the Lax Kw’alaams Band, North of “Prince Rupert,” where they attend Lax Kw’alaams Wap Suwilaawksa (Coast Tsimshian Academy).
Within Lax Kw’alaams territory, there are two water dams: an upper and a lower dam, which both have water settling issues.
“Their proposed project is to have the kids help come up with the solution for the lower dam, to create a settling pond. What that will do, is lower the amount of turbidity that enters through the distribution system and ends up at the water treatment plant,” Kimberley explained.
“So the water that will be coming to the water treatment plant will already be cleaner, in a sense. It will still need to be treated, but at a lower level.”
The Lax Kw’alaams Youth will be helping to create the preliminary design of the settling pond.
All the organization asks for is your community name, a contact in the community (teacher, head of public works, etc), as well as how many kids will be involved, including a team name and a school if it will be involved.