Keshena Lake in Menominee County, Wisconsin. Photo by RoyalBroil at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KeshenaLake.jpg. CC License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
Access to affordable safe drinking water provides a foundation for healthy communities and schools. Unfortunately, millions of Americans still go without, especially children.
Shawnee Ford, a water operator for the Great Lakes Rural Community Assistance Program (Great Lakes RCAP) in Wisconsin, was instrumental in helping two tribal schools gain access to healthy drinking water by partnering with the Chris Long Foundation, CoBank and RCAP National to install bottle filling stations on site. The schools were part of the many rural communities Great Lakes RCAP assists with drinking water and wastewater treatment needs.
The Keshena Primary School and the Menominee Indian Middle School, both located in the Menominee School District, received funding to install bottle filling stations throughout their schools. Both schools are located on the federally recognized Menominee Indian Reservation. Ford received assistance from Indian Health Services to determine the tribal schools’ eligibility.
Administration and maintenance personnel from both schools were extremely helpful during the entire process. Funding covered the cost of purchasing six water bottle filling stations and 24 replacement filters. The schools’ buildings and grounds maintenance departments did most of the installation, reducing project costs and enabling the purchase additional units and filters. There were 950 water bottles distributed to all students and staff at both schools to encourage them to drink more water, reduce plastic from disposable water bottles, and cut back on soda pop.
During the student outreach portion of the project, the cultural significance of water to Native American people was discussed, while using their native language. Student involvement was a significant part of the revealing day. Students had the opportunity to help Ford count in the Menominee language as well as his native language Ojibwe. The student outreach training went very well, so well that Mr. Ford was invited to return to share more information about the importance of safe and healthy drinking water.