• Anita Ledoux

Mistawasis Nêhiyawak

An Exploration of the Source Water Protection for Mistawasis Nêhiyawak

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Executive Summary

This case examines the development of a source water protection plan on Mistawasis Nêhiyawk First Nations and the resulting implementation of the Source Water Protection Plan. The data for this case relies heavily of four personal interviews which can be read in summary in Appendix 3. This case is part of a larger body of research exploring best management practices in water management in Saskatchewan and seeks to understand and identify best management practices. This case follows the progression of events starting in 2006 when several years of above average snow and rainfall flooded Mistawasis Nêhiyawk.

The natural disaster led to a series of partnerships and the eventual creation of a Source Water Protection Plan for the First Nation. Observing Mistawasis Nêhiyawk’s process for source water protection reveals key lessons that can inform best practices. The First Nation was able to leverage partnerships to accomplish water protection goals which increased the Mistawasis’ institutional capacity. Also, signing the Framework Agreement seems to have given the Fist Nation the right amount of legal latitude to protect its water. The agreement gives the First Nation more autonomy over its respective lands and prerogative to write its own Land Code that reflects its priorities- in this case, protecting source water. Finally, the Protection Plan itself allowed the First Nation the focus to make several changes to protect their source water. These include changes in managing the reverse osmosis plant and changes to the agricultural practices that are allowed within Mistawais Nêhiyawk territory.


Chief Mistawasis signed Treaty 6 on August 23, 1876, at Fort Carlton, Saskatchewan. In May 17, 1889, 77 square miles of land was set aside for the use and benefit of members of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak. In the past, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak utilized its land base for agriculture, fishing, hunting, fur trapping, silviculture, logging, herbs and craft materials (Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Strategic Plan July 2017 – April 2021).

Mistawasis Nêhiyawak is located 100 kilometres west of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, 150 kilometres north of Saskatoon and 150 kilometres east of North Battleford. There is a total of twelve (12) reserves set aside for Mistawasis Nêhiyawak (Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Strategic Plan July 2017 – April 2021). Mistawasis Nêhiyawak is situated along the transitional zone of the Boreal Forest and borders both the R.M. of Leask and the R.M of Canwood respectively. The reserve has numerous lakes and seasonal, permanent and temporary wetlands. The Mistawasis creek runs through Mistawasis Nêhiyawak and eventually drains into the North Saskatchewan River near Prince Albert.

Mistawasis Nêhiyawak lies within the North Saskatchewan River Basin and forms part of the North Saskatchewan River Watershed. The watershed (or basin) is made up of seven physiogeographic regions (Map 1).

Map 1: North Saskatchewan River Watershed First Nations Map. Source: http://www.nsrbc.ca/mrws/ filedriver/First_Nation_Lands_Large.pdf

Most of the watershed is covered by the Saskatchewan River Plain and the Missouri Couteau Uplands. The plain areas, including the Snipe Lake Plain and the Manitoba Saskatchewan Lowlands, demonstrate some topographic variety with ground moraine, lake plains, river valleys, spillways and other minor landforms. The Missouri Couteau, along with the Neutral and Senlac Hills and Saskatchewan Uplands provide a series of hilly landscapes along the northern, western and southern edges of the watershed.

There are over 1.6 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous, making up 4.9 per cent of the national population, namely the First Nations, Inuit and Metis1 with unique cultures and histories.

The population of Mistwasis has increased from 557 in 2001 to 681 in 2016 and has fluctuated in between with 2006 showing a high at 968 (Figure 1).

Most of the population of Mistawasis is engaged in education, public administration and mining (Figure 2).

The household income of Mistawasis community largely falls between the 60-79K bracket (20%), 30-39 K (25%), and between 0-4 K (25%) (Figure 3).

Figure 1: Population of Mitswasis (2017) Source: Statscan, 2017

Most of the population of Mistawasis is engaged in education, public administration and mining (Figure 2).

The household income of Mistawasis community largely falls between the 60-79K bracket (20%), 30-39 K (25%), and between 0-4 K (25%) (Figure 3).

Figure 2: Labor Force by Industry Source: Statscan, 2017

Figure 3: Household Income Source: Statscan, 2017

The climate is depicted by rainfall (Figure 4) and temperature (Figure 5). The highest rainfall falls in July at 106.3 mm and most of the rainfall falls in between May and September.

Figure 4: Average Rainfall Source: Statscan, 2017
Figure 4: Average Temperature Source: Statscan, 2017

In what is now Saskatchewan, treaties between the Government of Canada, and several Indigenous tribes codified the governing relationship between Indigenous people and the Government of Canada. From 1871 to 1906 treaties 2,4,5,6,8, and 10 were signed subsequent to the establishment of the Province in 1905 (Poelzer & Coates, 2015). Through the treaty signing process, the Indigenous communities agreed to share land peacefully in exchange for certain goods from the Canadian Government including health care and education. The ensuing relationship between the Indigenous population and the Government of Canada is beyond the scope of this case but suffice it to note that this distinct history created a unique framework of legislation for Indigenous communities presently.

As with most First Nations in Canada, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak was historically legislated by the Indian Act, a federally implemented Act that determined the relationship between First Nations communities and its members with the Federal Government of Canada. Under the Act, the Federal Government determined the funds allocated to each First Nation based on its membership size and land size. The leadership of the First Nation determined how the money was spent on each department for the reserve. Under the Indian Act, Indian lands are ultimately held in trust by the crown and Indigenous self-governance is often limited.

In the course of time, however, new arrangements between Indigenous communities and the Federal Government have emerged. The Federal Government developed what is called the ‘Framework Agreement’ which is a government-to-government agreement under the First Nations Lands Management Act. This agreement is an opportunity for First Nations to “opt out” of the Indian Act and independently exercise control and jurisdiction over their lands.

In 2013, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak signed a Framework Agreement with the Federal Government. As part of the Agreement, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak is to develop their own Land Code that reflects its laws, priorities and traditions (Author’s Land Code Advisory Notes. 2017). The Land Code was ratified in 2016 by the community of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak and leadership is working with an advisory committee and the Lands Department to develop the Code.

Water System

The community has five water treatment plants at various locations throughout the First Nation. There are 178 houses on the First Nation and 123 of those houses are connected to the water distribution system supplied by the treatment plants. Water that is treated at any of the five treatment facilities are piped to homes, businesses and community buildings throughout Mistawasis Nêhiyawak.

The water treatment plants utilize reverse osmosis (RO) as a way of water treatment. RO is a water treatment method that forces the water through an extremely fine membrane to remove dissolved minerals. The purified water passes through the membrane and collects in a storage container. The impassable minerals are then flushed away as waste. RO reverses the flow of water in a natural process of osmosis so that water passes from a more concentrated solution to a more dilute solution through a semi-permeable membrane. Pre- and post-filters are often incorporated along with the reverse osmosis membrane itself (CDC, 2021).

There are 32 cisterns on the First Nations that receive water from a water truck delivery system. The reason for this is these 32 homes are distant from the main core of the First Nation and the cost of expanding the pipeline is prohibitive. The water truck delivery system transports water from one of the water treatment facilities to the cisterns. The water transport truck is tested and treated daily to ensure the water is not contaminated when it leaves the plant for delivery. In addition to the water treatment facilities water truck delivery system, there are five private wells and five community wells that provide source drinking water to community members.

Several attempts were made to arrange an interview with the Public Works Director; however, the endeavour was unsuccessful. It would have very valuable for the case study to have updated information on the service areas.

Timeline of Flood Event

In 2006, the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of Manitoba, experienced high levels of precipitation during the winter and higher than normal rainfalls during the spring, summer, fall seasons. This above average “wet cycle” lasted for approximately a five-year period which included heavy summer rains and heavy winter snowfalls. Mistawasis Nêhiyawak as well as many other areas throughout the prairie provinces, experienced record flooding as water levels continued to rise.

Within the community of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, infrastructure, houses built-in low-lying areas, and basements were flooded and damaged. The damage from the spring flood was long-lasting. Some houses were unsalvageable and required demolition. Many roads were submersed in water. In some areas, roads were washed away, and lowlands were flooded with standing water.

In 2010, the Chief and Council made application to the Province for the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program. As per the application, the floods on Mistawasis Nêhiyawak were designated as a natural disaster and Mistawasis Nêhiyawak received funding from the program to address the initial clean up and to restore road infrastructure to functionality.

In 2011, leadership requested a full investigation of the flood damage. Associated Engineering Ltd., a private consulting firm, was commissioned to conduct to inspect the flooded areas and provide a report back to Mistawasis Nêhiyawak. The report recommended, installing larger culverts and regular monitoring for debris and obstructions, creating drainage canals and conducting a long-term drainage study to show the areas prone to future flooding (Associated Engineering (Sask.) Ltd. 2019). To follow up with the recommendations of the first report, in 2015, Associated Engineering (Sask.) Ltd. conducted the long-term drainage study. The recommendations put forward were to drain the lakes to the pre-flood levels (Associated Engineering (Sask.) Ltd. 2015).

After careful consideration, the leadership of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak decided against the recommendation of the drainage study. Chief and Council were concerned that draining its lakes would increase the flood risks to downstream stakeholders. Draining the lakes was seen as a short-term solution that passed the flooding issues to another community.

Instead, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak leadership sought to implement a more long-term solution to the flooding issues.

Mistawasis Nêhiyawak leadership understood that solving the flooding issues would be a long-term commitment that required additional, outside stakeholder involvement and initiated collaboration with numerous agencies. With financial support from Environment Canada EcoAction Plan a committee was established to work on the long-term flooding issues.

Various agencies, the neighbouring R.M.s of Leask and Canwood representatives, the North Saskatchewan River Basin Council representatives, the Water Security Agency, Environment Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Indigenous Services Canada, University of Saskatchewan, and the Saskatchewan Research Council, supplied cash donations, expertise, experience, in-kind contributions, and participated on the committee. The consolidated endeavour took the name Honor the Water, and numerous works were undertaken such as drainage studies, Lidar mapping, and improving the current drainage system at ‘flood vulnerable’ points throughout Mistawasis Nêhiyawak. The committee’s work proved adequate to move the fast-flowing spring melt through the areas with no build-up or back-up on to the banks of the water way (Participant #1 Interview. 2019).

Source Water Protection Plan

In 2016, the community of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak partnered with the North Saskatchewan River Basin Council, the School of Environment and Sustainability of the University of Saskatchewan. The result was a working committee that developed to explore the potential contamination risks to the source waters of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak. During this process, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak and the Working Committee signed working agreements with the University of Saskatchewan wherein students from the School could conduct various research projects on Mistawasis Nêhiyawak. One of the students from the School of Environment and Sustainability, developed a Source Water Protection Plan. “Source protection, the prevention of contaminants from entering water sources, is the first layer of defense in a multi-barrier approach to water protection. A source water protection plan (SWPP) is a document aimed at documenting how to protect source water quality and quantity. An SWPP is a systematic and organized assessment of contamination sources and pathways linked to human activity and natural processes that occur in a watershed. Based on this inventory, the SWPP identifies and prioritizes management actions to mitigate or reduce water contamination risks to an acceptable level” (Aborgines Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2021.

The source water protection plan identified 27 sources for potential water contaminants on Mistawasis Nêhiyawak and ranked each by severity (see Appendix 1).

Investigation of High-Risk Contamination

In May of 2017, an investigation of the infrastructure for water distribution on Mistawasis Nêhiyawak was conducted by Dynamic Systems, a private consulting firm. The primary purpose of the investigation was to examine and assess the probability of leaching of lead contamination from lead bearing materials. The report also indicates that adequate training was not provided to properly equip the operators of the Public Works Department of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak. Lack of necessary tools and knowledge prevented the staff from ensuring proper operation and verification of the processes of application of infrastructure components and water quality baselines. Ultimately, the investigation highlighted the importance to address the corrosiveness of the water and to protect the infrastructure to ensure the safety and health of the community and its members (Dynamic Systems. May. 2017).

The leadership of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, contracted the consultation firm Bullee Consulting Ltd., and along with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) gathered to discuss the investigative report and the recommendations put forward by Dynamic Systems. What ensued was the development of a project team assigned from various departments of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak to work with INAC to address the concerns in the report. Specifically, the following work was completed to address the corrosivity of the water:

  • Mistawasis Nêhiyawak School Upgrade

  • Mistawasis Sewage Pump System Upgrade (Waste-Water Treatment Plant)

  • Water Treatment Plant Upgrade

  • Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Drainage System

  • Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Lagoon Expansion

(Information provided from Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Lands Director (2017)

Mistawasis Nêhiyawak also contracted Green for Life Environmental to remove other potential contaminant sources outlined in the Source Water Protection Plan. This work was completed in May of 2018. There were numerous items removed from home sites, work sites, and areas that were outlined in the Source Water Protection Plan. Many of the contaminants removed were hazardous and corrosive to the land and source water. The work was prioritized to deal with the most immediate contaminant sources within the Source Water Protection Plan. Green for Life Environmental removed the following from the First Nation:

  • Corrosive Liquids

  • Paint (incl. latex paint) and related materials

  • Aerosols

  • Propane tanks

  • Fire extinguishers

  • Compressed helium cylinders

  • Compressed CO2 cylinders

  • Wet batteries (active acid)

  • Non-regulated substances (pesticide/herbicide residue jugs)

  • Non-regulated strychnine container

  • Non-regulated oil and grease containers

  • Empty cement bags

  • Drywall compound and components

  • Antifreeze containers

  • Electronic components

  • Appliances containing freon

  • Non-regulated jugs of canola oil

GFL Environmental Service Order No. 269609 (May. 2018)

Agricultural Production Risks to Source Water

The Source Water Protection Plan also identified agricultural activities as being high risk for contaminating source water. To deal with this issue, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak developed a Land Code, to regulate what agricultural activities can and cannot be done within its territory.

Mistawasis Nêhiyawak leases its agricultural land to local producers. According to the previous leases, farmers could use the land at their discretion for agricultural purposes. However, in January of 2019, the leases for the farmers expired and Mistawasis Nêhiyawak re-wrote the leases to reflect their land code and Source Water Protection goals. The environmental management component of the new leases outlines specifically what agricultural practices are allowed on Mistawasis Nêhiyawak (see Appendix 2).

Participant Interviews and Methodology

The anticipated number of participants for the case study was eight people. The goal was to include a diverse perspective from folks of various backgrounds relating to climate change and source water protection through best management practices and adaptive management. Several efforts were made in attempts to arrange interviews with the eight people chosen for the case study, however the number of interviews conducted were four.

The participants included in the case study were from a variety of educational backgrounds, however, the overall arching commonality between these folks was involvement in the work they do with water and water issues, climate change and climate issues (Table 1).

Table 1 Source: Author

Conclusion and Discussion

Although the path toward source protection started with a flood scenario circa 2006, the First Nation made positive strides to protect its natural resource. There are several lessons that can be learned through observing Mistawasis Nêhiyawak’s process. The First Nation successfully leveraged partnerships to increase the institutional capacity for water protection. Leaving the Indian Act and signing a Framework Agreement also created the right governance formula for writing new land codes that protect the water from dangerous agricultural practices. The creation of the Source Water Protection Plan appears to have given Mistawasis an impetus and guide to focus practices that protect the water.

One key success factor of the Mistawasis case is how the community was able to leverage partnerships to accomplish its goals. Throughout the history noted above the First Nation created several working groups and commissions. Partnerships with the University of Saskatchewan created the right synergies to produce a source water plan and partnerships with other government agencies unlocked funds to get work done. Leveraging the partnerships can be a way to increase institutional capital.

Regarding governance, the First Nation’s decision to sign a Framework agreement and “opt out” of the Indian Act seems to have created the right governance environment to protect its natural resource. Under the Agreement the First Nation has the authority to write its own land code, Mistawasis was able to incorporate more environmentally responsible regulations for land use in its territory. The authority to govern its own land was necessary step in source water protection.

The source water protection plan itself is a lesson to be learned for water management. The protection plan served as the backbone and impetus for several reports and rec. The Plan identified several high-risk contaminants that the First Nations sought to deal with and helped the Mistawasis focus its endeavours to deal with the most acute problems.

Other than these three lessons interview data identified several themes for discussion. These include:

  • Strengthen Public Works staff through training programs i.e. Circuit Rider Training Program.

  • Open dialogue and communication between departments of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak.

  • Continue work on the Emergency Preparedness Plan.

  • Invite the community members to regular meetings held by the directors/managers of community departments to share information.

  • Move the SWPP to a living dynamic document utilized by the Public Works Department.

  • Continue to encourage the youth to pursue educational endeavours relative to required capacity for Mistawasis Nêhiyawak.


Associated Engineering (Sask.) Ltd. (June 2011).

Author’s Class Notes Environmental Studies 821 (2017).

Aborigines and Northern Affairs Canada (2021). First Nations On-Reserve Source Water Protection Plan. Accessed at https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/DAM/DAM-INTER-HQ-ENR/

STAGING/texte-text/source_1398366907537_eng.pdf on 29.1.2021

CDC (2021).

A Guide to Drinking Water Treatment Technologies for Household Use https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/home-water-treatment/household_water_treatment.html#:~:text=Reverse%20Osmosis%20Systems%20use%20a,the%20reverse%20 osmosis%20membrane%20itself.

Dynamic Systems (May 2017).

Environmental Studies 821. Author’s personal notes (2017).

Investigating Rising Water Levels on Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, Saskatchewan. University of Saskatchewan College of Agriculture and Bioresources (pg.7. March. 2017).

Land Code Advisory Committee Notes (2017).Accessed at http://brunswickhousefirstnation.com/download/LACMeeting_1_Jan262017_NOTES%20PDF%202.pdf on 29.1.201Ledoux, Anita. Environmental Management Component for Mistawasis Nêhiyawak (agricultural).

Masters of Sustainable & Environmental Management Project (July 2017)

Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Strategic Plan (July 2017 – April 2021). Accessed at http://www.mistawasis.ca/wp content/uploads/2017/09/Mistawasis_Strategic-Plan_20171-2.pdf on


Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Climate Change and Health Impact Assessment (February 2017).

North Saskatchewan River Watershed, Source Water Protection Plan (September 2008).

Source Water Protection Plan (July 2016).

North Saskatchewan River Watershed Environmental Scan and Risk Assessment (2013).

Appendix 1 – Source Water Protection Plan Contaminant List

Acronyms for Chart:

Public Works Dept. – PWD

First Nation - FN