Students at the University of Regina School of Journalism and First Nations University of Canada have released an investigation into First Nations water issues across Canada.

The year-long investigation – which started in the fall of 2019 – looked into water quality on First Nations, who has control of water resources and infrastructure on First Nations and the Indigenous view of water.

Five classes worked on the investigation and produced an hour-long investigative current affairs program and website detailing their findings.

Darla Ponace was one of the 35 Saskatchewan students that took part in the project. She said the biggest takeaway was awareness of the water issues on First Nations.

“The reason it is so important is that a lot of people aren’t aware that these are still occurring issues. I wasn’t aware before,” said Ponace.

Ponace said having clean water is important for all Canadians, and those that live on First Nations should have the same access to water as those in urban centres.

“I hope that Canada really steps up and starts to help everybody,” Ponace said. “It’s a necessary and people can’t live without water, so I hope that it brings some change.”

Participating students in five classes worked alongside students at 10 other universities, who also developed stories in their regions. Ponace, along with class member Jaida Beaudin-Herney, also travelled to Montreal to help design the investigation and a nationwide phone survey of treatment plant operators in Canada.

“It was an amazing experience, honestly. The biggest thing is that I hope we are educating the public,” said Beaudin-Herney.

Trish Elliott, investigative journalism instructor at the University of Regina School of Journalism, said there has been a lot of reporting on the drinking water in First Nations communities, but nothing of this scale and depth. She believes collaborations like these are the future of investigative journalism.

“Data is very dense these days. Newsrooms are shrinking. So, to come up with a model for universities and newsrooms to work together, is really important,” Elliott said.

The project was part of a nation-wide collaboration coordinated by the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia University.