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Clean Water, Broken Promises

IIJ-CleanWaterBrokenPromises-StudentsfromacrossCanada Students from across Canada gathered at Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism to design the investigation. Photo by Patti Sonntag.

"Clean Water, Broken Promises" is a Canada-wide collaborative investigation facilitated by the Institute for Investigative Journalism which focuses on water systems in Indigenous communities.

The initiative involves 75 students from 10 universities and colleges nationwide as well as nearly two dozen journalists from six news outlets.

The focus on water in Indigenous communities evolved from an investigative research class taught in fall 2019 by Patricia Elliott at First Nations University of Canada in Regina. Students researched the history of water infrastructure and water quality in nearby First Nations communities.

Next, students from across the country met in Montreal to design their investigation, based on First Nations University’s findings and the advice of a council made up of Karyn Pugliese, assistant professor of journalism at Ryerson University; Anishinaabe journalist Duncan McCue; Martha Troian, an award-winning independent investigative journalist from Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation); and Jamuna Galay-Tamang, a journalist specializing in Indigenous approaches to justice in Canada.

Between January and March 2020, 75 students from 10 universities and colleges reached out to approximately 600 First Nations communities in Canada. Individuals responsible for water systems in 122 of those communities responded through in-depth, standardized interviews.

In those interviews, about half of water operators said they are managing an ongoing challenge, from frequent boil-water advisories to plants whose capacity was inadequate to meet community needs.

Some interview subjects also said that despite having multi-million dollar systems, they did not have adequate operations and maintenance budgets to run them properly. And still others said their systems were deteriorating before their eyes.

Collaborating media include APTN News, Global News, Le Devoir, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Canada’s National Observer and The Tyee.

Collaborating university and college partners include Carleton University, Concordia University, First Nations University of Canada, Humber College, University of Regina, MacEwan University, Mount Royal University, Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM), University of British Columbia and University of King's College.

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