May 12, 2022

UCalgary students make positive change with Indigenous clean water initiative

World's Challenge Challenge award winners host first National Indigenous Water Operator Day
Indigenous clean water initiative
Attendees view the art gallery featuring artwork with themes of water from Indigenous artists and portraits of operators from across the country.

Former UCalgary student group and now a nationally registered non-profit organization, Water Movement organized and hosted the inaugural National Indigenous Water Operator Day (NIWOD) on March 21. NIWOD is recognized on March 21, a day before World Water Day, and acknowledges those who treat and bring clean water to Indigenous communities.

Water Movement, created by UCalgary students Bita Malekian, Amrita Nag, Kondwani Asefa and Anita Malekian, was awarded third place and a prize of $7,500 at Western University’s World's Challenge Challenge (WCC) global final in 2021 after pitching their unique idea at the UCalgary WCC competition.

Water Movement is a collaborative online platform where Indigenous water treatment operators can connect and access resources to improve, optimize and sustain equipment and processes, to address Canada’s water crisis.

Operators from across the country convened at Calgary City Hall for the inaugural event where they were acknowledged, celebrated, and honoured. The event gave those responsible for keeping drinking water safe in Indigenous communities a platform to share stories, solutions and challenges.

It’s an ongoing struggle to lift communities out of water advisory status and prevent it from reccurring. Thousands of people are still living with untreated water, and yet the water operators who are keeping the waters flowing in their communities, lifting them out of advisories or preventing them from happening, continue to face a career that’s underpaid and overworked. 

“Indigenous people have been speaking for many decades on the need for safe drinking water for many communities. Water Movement is supporting Indigenous voices and contributing to Indigenous peoples and their efforts to access potable water, something that most Canadians take for granted. It is an example that understanding, respectful relationships, and commitment contributes to meaningful change for the people most impacted,” says Dr. Michael Hart, vice-provost (Indigenous engagement).

Indigenous clean water initiative

Inspirational quotes accompany artwork and portraits of Indigenous water operators.

The event featured speeches by government leaders including city councillors, MLAs, the minister of Indigenous relations, and Nathan Neudorf, parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment and parks for water stewardship, who also acknowledged National Indigenous Water Operator Day at the Provincial Assembly.

An art gallery exclusively featuring artwork with themes of water from Indigenous artists and portraits of operators from across the country accompanied by their inspirational stories was also on display.

“The portraits were taken during our visits to Indigenous communities to expand Water Movement's video library, which was supported in funding by the WCC prize money and University of Calgary ii' taa'poh'to'p grant,” says Malekian. “Water Movement remains committed to listening to, learning from and connecting with Indigenous water treatment operators to provide valuable resources.”

When's the next World's Challenge Challenge?

UCalgary has hosted the World’s Challenge Challenge since 2018, and will be accepting proposals for the 2023 UCalgary World’s Challenge Challenge competition in late fall.

“The development initiatives we support create opportunities for our students to develop effective intercultural skills and unique areas of knowledge, such as global Indigenous engagement,” say Dr. Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost and associate vice-president research.

“This innovative competition is an exciting way for UCalgary students to learn about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, engage with students from around the world and address real-world challenges.”

Students interested in working with an international, interdisciplinary team of students to help solve a challenge faced by a local community organization can sign up for the next iteration of the Global Community Challenge YYC taking place this fall or next year’s World’s Challenge Challenge competition. For more information regarding either program, email