Lesson 7: Water and North America

Grade 5-9 (health, science and social studies)
Grade 10-12 (health, science and social studies)

Topic: Water policy in Canada with a specific look at First Nations water issues.

Time: 60 minutes

Space Requirement: Regular classroom

Methodology: Presentation, class discussion

Materials: Computer and projector for PowerPoint presentation

Objectives: The students will understand that water is controlled at a provincial level with a few exceptions. They will also examine the state of First Nations water supplies by comparing two communities (Saddle Lake, AB and Kashechewan, ON).

For the Teacher: The goal for this lesson is to have students become aware of the state of drinking water in Canada, and especially on First Nations Reserves. The sources and related links, below, contain a great deal of information about water in First Nations communities, and Saddle Lake in particular. As some articles are longer and offer a more in-depth perspective than others, you may wish to read through some and decide which ones to use for your class.


  1. On the board, write the phrase “In Canada, water is…” The students have three minutes to give answers. Write their answers on the board. (3 min)
    Should get responses such as: clean, everyone has it, free, drink it right out of the tap, lots of it.
  2. Play the “Water Policy in Canada” PowerPoint presentation (see link below). Read out loud, or have students read the “Rural water quality offers perspective” article (link below), so that they can begin to understand the inadequacies of many water treatment plants across Canada, particularly in First Nations communities. “Clean Living – First Nations and Water” is another article that provides an excellent perspective of the quality of water in First Nations communities across Canada, but it is lengthy, so you may wish to read it to use as a reference to the PowerPoint presentation. (15 min)
  3. Discuss First Nations water issues using the “Aboriginal Communities” power point presentation and the “Advanced Aboriginal Water Treatment Team” handout (see below). (20 min)
    Address the following issues:
    i. number of water sources
    ii. number of boil water advisories
    iii. federal obligation to First Nations water
  4. As a class, look at the cases of Saddle Lake, AB and Kashechewan, ON in the PowerPoint presentation titled “A Tale of Two Communities.” (15 min)
    “The Saddle Lake Story,” “Watered Down Excuse, According to one scientist, high cost is no excuse for lack of safe drinking water in First Nations communities,” and “Biological water treatment effective in Saddle Lake” are three articles that summarize the story of Saddle Lake’s drinking water from Boil Water Advisories to superior quality drinking water. The links are found below.
  5. Have the students complete a water journal entry: “Is Canada doing enough to give all people access to clean, healthy drinking water? What can be done to improve the water situation in Canada?”
  6. Make sure the students hand in their question for the guest speaker in lesson 8.

Evaluation: There is no formal evaluation for this lesson. The water journals will be collected after lesson 9 and checked for completion and content.

Resources: The three power point presentations can be found by following the links: Water Policy in Canada, Aboriginal Communities, and A Tale of Two Communities. The links to the suggested articles, as well as some others, are found below, in the sources and related links section. You might also want to have your students visit the Safe Drinking Water Team website.

Extension Activity: The Safe Drinking Water Foundation has other educational programs that can be taught with this set of lessons. Operation Water Drop examines the chemical contaminants that can be found in water; this program is designed for a science class. Operation Water Flow explores the use of water and where it comes from; this program is designed for a Social studies and Math collaboration. Operation Water Spirit presents a First Nations perspective of water and water issues and is designed for a Native Studies or Social Studies class. Operation Water Health explores common health issues surrounding drinking water in Canada and around the world and is designed for a Health, Science and Social Studies collaboration. To access more information on these and other educational activities visit the Safe Drinking Water Foundation website at www.safewater.org.

Sources and Related Links:
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: Treat the Illness or Treat the Water? – a SDWF fact sheet
- Clean Living - First Nations and Water - by Bronwen Parson, June 2003, Canadian Consulting Engineer.
- Watered Down Excuse, According to one scientist, high cost is no excuse for lack of safe drinking water in First Nations communities – by Kim Peterson, June 12, 2007, The Dominion.
- Operation Water Spirit Lesson Plans – an SDWF educational program
- What is an aquifer? – SDWF Operation Water Flow lesson plan