Wesley Bova, P.Eng. is a professional engineer who works at Matawa First Nations Management (MFNM) in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Matawa First Nations is a Tribal Council of nine member Ojibway and Cree nations. The Council works to provide advisory services and program delivery to its member nations.
As head of Technical Services, Bova is responsible for assisting with development and maintenance of community assets, infrastructure, and housing.
Matawa First Nations is often described as being in a state of crisis, with inadequate housing and electrical service provision, failing water and sewage treatment plants, high rates of under and unemployment, substandard education, rising incarceration rates, to name a few. Five of the nine communities that Bova serves are remote, accessible only by air or winter roads.
It’s a difficult environment to work in, but that’s also what drives Bova. “I am First Nation from Akwesasne, and as First Nation, I’ve seen a large discrepancy in the standard of living across Ontario with respect to infrastructure, housing, and water — closing this discrepancy is a major motivating factor for me.”
In Matawa, many member communities don’t have access to potable drinking water — for example, Neskantaga First Nation has been under a boil-water advisory for over 20 years. Many communities rely on water bottles flown in by the Canadian government. Some receive as little as 1.5 litres of bottled water a day, even though Health Canada recommends 1.5 litres of drinking water for adults a day and an additional 4.5 litres for personal hygiene.
“I can’t even imagine the frustration of the community members. I don’t think a lot of Canadians are aware of the large discrepancy in this country in the provision of something as basic as drinking water in First Nations communities.”
Yet, Bova is proud to deliver the news that Constance Lake First Nation is going to have a new water treatment plant by the spring of 2016. “I’ve been working on getting a new plant up at Constance Lake for 10 years now. Once the plant is built, the water quality there will probably be the best in the Matawa communities. When I look back at all the processes and challenges we’ve gone through to see it actually being built, I think, well that’s fulfilling.”
Bova’s work doesn’t stop with just Matawa First Nations. Earlier this year, Bova was elected president of the board of directors at the Ontario First Nations Technical Service Corporation, an organization which provides technical advisory services to all First Nations communities in Ontario.
Last year, Bova was invited to speak to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples about challenges related to First Nations infrastructure on reserves. Bova presented the Committee with a technical perspective on some of the issues infrastructure projects face, such as bureaucratic red tape and lack of funding. Bova provided recommendations to help expedite the approval process so much needed projects on reserves move forward in a timely manner.
Even after eleven years, Bova doesn’t see himself leaving Matawa First Nations anytime soon. “I’ve built a lot of friendships with people in the communities — people who endure the hardships I want to solve on a daily basis. They’ve become my friends and these friendships have become a major motivating factor for me.”
For young engineers who aspire to serve communities, Bova says, “if that’s your motivating factor, I think you’ll undoubtedly succeed. That’s not to say you won’t be frustrated at times, but one thing I’ve realized is that frustration won’t get you anywhere. You have to learn to focus your energy on reaching your goal. It’s easy to get down trodden, but when you see your projects through, from inception right up to the construction process, it’s very rewarding — even if it takes a long time. It is especially fulfilling to actually see how the communities that you are serving benefit.”