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SASKATCHEWAN CIRCUIT RIDER WINS NATIONAL FIRST NATIONS WATER LEADERSHIP AWARD
By Suzanne Forcese
Deon Hassler Photo Courtesy File Hills-Qu’Appelle Tribal Council
Deon Hassler, a circuit rider technician for File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, is this year’s recipient of the National First Nations Water leadership Award. The award was created by Indigenous Services Canada in March 2018 to recognize and honour Indigenous people or organizations that have demonstrated leadership and outstanding dedication to the advancement of clean, safe drinking water in Indigenous communities.
WaterToday had the pleasure of speaking with Deon Hassler who says “I was stunned to receive the call two days ago from the Minister of Indigenous Services, The Honourable Seamus O’Regan. It was such an honour.”
Hassler comes from the Carry-The- Kettle Nakoda Nation, is a decorated military veteran and a former water plant operator.
“Ensuring the health and safety of a community’s water supply is a role I take very seriously,” said Hassler “I am fortunate to be in a position where I can now share my years of experience and knowledge, to help train, mentor, guide, and assist new and future operators and leaders in the ongoing care, maintenance and operation of this critical piece of community infrastructure.” Further to Deon’s work in training, he also formed the First Nations Water Association, an organization of First Nations water plant operators, technicians, circuit riders and trainers.
“I got my start as a Machinist Mate First Petty Officer and was in the Military for 6 years and then worked as a water plant operator, and circuit rider technician and trainer for FHQTC. I work with 11 communities, train and mentor them.
“Water operators work long hours, often with little recognition, to watch over their community’s water supply. It is the hard work and dedication of people like Deon that is vital in helping us achieve our goal of lifting all long-term drinking water advisories by 2021,” said Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Indigenous Services in a statement that WT received from his office.
Hassler has shared his knowledge and expertise with other First Nation communities for the past 6 years. He is part of a team of people known as Circuit Riders – who travel to First Nations Communities training the people responsible for operating, monitoring and maintaining drinking water and wastewater systems. He also assists in obtaining and maintaining their certification. “There
were a number of long-time operators in the communities who were not certified. It was one of my goals to help them achieve certification,” he told WT. He also advises chiefs and councils. His latest work has been to advocate for the creation of a Saskatchewan Operators Association of the First Nations Water and Wastewater Operators. “We get a lot of calls for help from communities outside our area. This is a great way to educate and network.”
Hassler is also very pleased with his work in the Safe Drinking Water Team. SDWT is a group of First Nations water treatment plant operators, scientific advisors, and other professionals who help other First Nations water treatment plant operators and rural water treatment plant operators with their water treatment challenges. SDWT also promotes the best available technology for water treatment and advocates for stricter guidelines and regulations for drinking water.
“Operators were asking for this. I have a lot of people behind me—scientists, researchers, other operators. We answer questions once a month on our website.”
Hassler’s accomplishments are impressive. “My work is my passion,” he told WT. “It is so rewarding to be able to share my knowledge.”
That mix of accomplishments and attitude certainly makes the job of the advisory committee formed of First Nations and ISC representatives who provide recommendations to the Minister of Indigenous Service on the suggested Award recipient.
The recipient receives a trophy and a piece of Indigenous artwork. Hassler will also be honored through the creation of 3 bursaries in his name to support water operators in their professional development.
“It is a huge honour to be recognized,” Hessler added. “But really the rewards of my job are recognition enough. I just want to pass on my knowledge.”
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