Warren Brown is an advocate for Indigenous water infrastructure.
By Evan Pilkington
“Warren’s dedication to operator advocacy is recognized not only by his community of Lytton First Nation, but also fellow colleagues in the water industry.”
That’s what Candace Cook, research engineer at RESEAU CMI, had to say when she nominated Warren Brown for the Water Canada magazine’s Water’s Next Awards. The Selection Committee also echoed Cook’s sentiments, which is why Brown was awarded both the Water/Wastewater Operator and the Water Steward of the Year award at this year’s celebration.
As the operations manager for the community of Lytton First Nation, Brown is directly responsible for providing safe drinking water/wastewater services. He is also responsible for road maintenance for 13 drinking water systems.
While he juggles many tasks in delivering these services, they make up one part of the work he does on a day-to-day basis. Brown is an advocate for Indigenous water operators in Canada. His commitment to raising awareness of issues faced by water operators has reached international news outlets, including the BBC.
In addition to regular requests for Brown to join committees and the numerous invitations to work with neighboring Indigenous communities, his insight and expertise is sought by many high-profile academic institutions. Most recently, Brown was asked to be the host for a series of water operations training videos. These videos, in turn, have been distributed to Indigenous operators across Canada.
Brown has been called the “Water Whisperer” because he’s often approached and asked to explain how water operators should learn about their systems.
“I would tell my fellow operator about how I would enter a plant and take a moment to listen before doing anything. This will help them understand that when the system has an issue, they will know right away because it will sound different when he enters. I would also tell them that once they get comfortable with the systems, they should learn everything about them, so that even if they’re not on site, they can walk anyone through a system over the phone to help correct an issue.”
Beyond his day-to-day work, Brown never hesitates to assist community members with home repairs and maintenance. He often carves out time each day to give educational tours of his facilities to students and interested residents. Going even further, Brown recently developed a summer program to foster practical maintenance skills for youth participants.
“This job is not about money,” comments Brown when reflecting on his busy work life. “I know I’m underpaid and will never be a millionaire. At some point, we realize our importance, and we do this work for our family and community. I can sleep knowing I did the best I can, for them.”
Brown works to inspire the next generation of water leaders and operators through dedicated outreach efforts. As an educator and mentor, his driving goal is to help others gain the understanding and skills needed to thoughtfully improve Indigenous water outcomes and become allies in advocacy.
“I believe the best way to educate the public on the importance of water, is through the youth,” says Brown. “Have the youth ask their parents the hard questions as to why they feel they need to water a lawn all day, or why they need to refill large pools with fresh water instead of installing a filter system?”
Brown says he hopes to continue building relationships with post-secondary institutions and engineering students to work toward finding better ways to make potable water.
“And answering questions from those who want to know more about water operations and water quality. I also hope to meet and make more friends in the industry.”
His efforts have not gone unrecognized. With industry peers and coworkers appreciating Brown’s growing influence in the greater water industry, his colleague, Cook reflects that “the exemplary vision and leadership demonstrated by Brown has laid the foundation for operators to ensure that systematic problems and water inequities become a thing of the past in Indigenous communities.”
In speaking to Brown, one will quickly come to understand that his passion rests in working for his people. His stories do not touch on his own successes, but rather are filled with the pride he feels when those around him reach their potential.
Evan Pilkington is a seriously water-obsessed freelance writer.
Featured image: Warren Brown is an advocate for Indigenous water infrastructrue. (Water Movement)