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Indigenous-Led Renewables Can Support Reconciliation, Climate Action

Green partnerships could hold the key to improving the Canadian government’s deeply damaged relationship with Indigenous peoples—while bolstering its lacklustre record in fighting the climate crisis.

“Canada now faces a reckoning with respect to our past and future relationship with Indigenous peoples, who have inhabited this land for thousands of years and provided the natural resources upon which this country was built,” write entrepreneur John Beaucage, former grand council chief of the First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation, and Frank Davis, senior legal counsel for San Francisco-based Pattern Energy Group, in a recent op-ed for The Globe and Mail. Better support for Indigenous-led green energy partnerships could help redress the country’s past and present mistreatment of Indigenous people and communities, while easing its struggle to meet its national and international obligations to fight climate change, they add. 

“Failure to overcome these challenges, each of equally urgent priority, will deflate Canada’s already tenuous domestic sense of identity and faith in our institutions, and will permanently tarnish our standing on the global stage,” they write. “Failure is simply not an option.”

One factor that unites the two challenges is the hundreds of diesel-dependent Northern communities in Canada that “will need to be converted to clean power at a rate of one every three weeks in order to ensure Canada keeps pace with climate commitments.” Meanwhile, “meaningful economic partnerships between the private sector and First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities…are already under way across Canada”. And “new regulatory models that ensure responsible renewable resource project development, sanctioned by both Canadian and traditional Indigenous legal systems, are being financed by the global investment community.” 

Those projects, say Beaucage and Davis, could provide near-term opportunities for Indigenous workers and business owners and “significant” long-term revenue potential for communities, while “ensuring minimal environmental consequences and, ultimately, the ability to decommission the project and return the land largely to its preconstruction state.”

Case in point, they write, is the Henvey Inlet wind project, now nearing completion thanks to a partnership between Pattern Energy and the Henvey Inlet First Nation in southeastern Ontario. The “transformational” project is the largest wind venture in the country, featuring 87 turbines generating 300 MW of electricity. It’s destined to help fund “community recreation centres, schools, treatment facilities, and emergency response capability,” Beaucage and Davis say, making it a powerhouse example of environmental stewardship done right. 

“The project was approved through an environmental stewardship regime designed and implemented by the First Nation under federal legislation,” the authors explain. “The project’s environmental effects, and the ultimate decision to proceed, were assessed and sanctioned directly by the First Nations community, as landlord and permitting authority, with legal standing to do so under bankable federal laws.”

Meanwhile, the Cold Lake First Nation recently inked a power purchase agreement with Cenovus Energy, with the fossil giant committing to purchase solar power and associated offsets from a 150-MW solar farm that will be partly owned by the Nation, the Globe and Mail reports. The project is scheduled to go online in 2023.