While First Nations from across the continent form alliances to block fossil fuel pipelines in Canada and the United States, a less-noticed development has made scores of Indigenous communities in both countries contented partners with energy companies. The difference: these partners are renewable energy businesses.
“Indigenous communities are increasingly joining Canada’s growing clean energy economy as a way to generate revenue in a manner that is consistent with their cultural and environmental values,” CBC News reports.
“Our people are willing and able,” says Kevin Hart, Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Manitoba, who is also in charge of acquiring an the alternative energy investment portfolio for the Assembly. “Through our teachings we’ve always been taught to be stewards of the land. And with that, I honestly believe that First Nations people can be champions when it comes to clean and alternative energy moving forward.”
Citing data compiled by the University of Calgary, CBC News said more than 190 Indigenous Canadian communities host 300 clean energy projects, most in in Ontario and British Columbia—with “another 40 or 50 moving through the approval process” in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and New Brunswick.
Preferential long-term purchase contracts offered by provincial government utilities have often been key to those projects proceeding, as was the case for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation in eastern Ontario. The community now partially owns five small solar projects, with construction to begin next year on two larger arrays of 10 and 12 megawatts.
More recently, the federal government committed $3.95 million to support indigenous communities, many in remote locations dependent on shipped-in diesel oil to run generators, to shift to clean energy.
The trend crosses national borders. In northern Minnesota, “the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota intends to build enough solar energy capability over the next several years to free itself from electricity generated from fossil fuels,” The Minnesota Star Tribune reports. The US$40 million project is expected to produce 25 megawatts of power from panels installed on three tribal-owned casino rooftops, “as well as several tribal corporate buildings, ground arrays and, eventually, house rooftops,” the paper says.
The trend “stands in stark contrast with a lot of the controversy we’ve seen around various fossil fuel projects and pipelines where there’s been a lot of tension and at times opposition from First Nations communities and the proponents of those projects,” said Clean Energy Canada Policy Director Dan Woynillowicz.
“I think it is the way of the future,” added Gerry Duquette, chief of the Dokis First Nation, which recently inaugurated a 10-MW, run-of-river hydroelectric generation plant—co-owned with an investment and engineering partner—southeast of Sudbury, Ontario. “Historically, we used to trade in different goods,” Duquette told CBC. “Now, we’re just trading in power.”