David Isaac
President - W Dusk Energy Group

Renewable Energy and Reconciliation: Clean Energy’s Impact on Indigenous Communities

Takeaways

  1. Renewable energy projects are shifting the energy landscape in Canada, starting with Indigenous communities who stand to lead and benefit significantly. This is occurring in part due to necessity, but also because of renewable energy and cleantech’s alignment with Indigenous cultural values, philosophies and worldviews.
  2. One of the greatest challenges remote communities face is costly and complex maintenance and repair for basic infrastructure. Canada must focus on deploying renewable energy systems that use smart, microgrids bound by the Internet-of-Things. This will enable continuous monitoring of the system’s condition, operation through sensors and provide a single, unified platform and interface.
  3. Indigenous youth want jobs that allow them to work and live on their own land while the rest of Canadian youth are looking for careers that have more intrinsic value and meaning. With the rise of renewable energy projects, it will be important for educational programs to put a stronger emphasis on the technical and trade-related skills. This way, all youth can find work and contribute to local projects as well as become part of a global movement.

Action

I would pitch Prime Minister Trudeau to support an Indigenous co-led National Energy Plan which would require a multibillion-dollar infrastructure investment strategy to accelerate Canada into a Third Industrial Revolution economy. We have a historic opportunity to modernize our own infrastructure, unlock many more jobs, all the while operationalizing Indigenous Reconciliation.


What are the biggest opportunities entrepreneurs should focus on to grow the Indigenous economy and improve life in Indigenous communities?

Indigenous communities are very familiar with renewable energy and cleantech, but there are cultural biases that are impediments to our progress. Non-Indigenous Canadians must recognize that Indigenous culture is not static—it changes and shifts and is responsive to the surrounding world and environment. It does involve technology.

“An energy revolution is happening across the globe; one that resonates with Indigenous reconciliation, with environmental stewardship and with innovative technology.”

Indigenous Canada is very resourceful. In pre-contact times we were futurists; we were scientists; and we had different levels of consciousness in terms of our relationship with our land. We were reliant on healthy, accessible natural ecosystems. As the world shifts towards renewable energy, a digital economy and the Internet of Things (IoT), Indigenous communities stand to benefit significantly. In part this is due to necessity, but it is also because of the alignment with our cultural values, philosophies and worldviews.

An energy revolution is happening across the globe; one that resonates with Indigenous reconciliation, with environmental stewardship and with innovative technology.It doesn’t get any better than this. And Canada needs to get on board, starting with Indigenous communities.


How do you see our relationship with energy shifting, both in Indigenous Canada and the wider population?

One of the greatest challenges remote Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities face is the cost and complexity of building, maintaining and repairing our infrastructure, such as roads and water systems—often due to the high cost of transportation to remote areas. To get out of this paradigm, Canada must focus on deploying renewable energy systems.

Energy systems, electric grids and water systems that use smart, connected products will  enable the comprehensive monitoring of their condition, operation and external environment through sensors and external data sources. The ability to use data in real-time will trigger innovation, productivity gains and economic growth among Indigenous communities.

“The future infrastructure of the world will be based on Indigenous principles of having local abundant natural resources that minimize the negative extractions and the colonial technology that we see in oil and gas.”

Renewable energy alters the long-established relationships between the energy industry and Indigenous communities, shifting away from an economy that is designed around finite petroleum resources vulnerable to global supply and geopolitics. Every square inch of Indigenous land in Canada has wind, solar or tidal energy potential. With IoT, we can optimize the interactions between a distributed energy system composed of solar panels, wind turbines, and tidal power based on real-time data from each component.

The future infrastructure of the world will be based on Indigenous principles of having local abundant natural resources that minimize the negative extractions and the colonial technology that we see in oil and gas.Most importantly, it’s also healing energy poverty and healing the land because solar and wind energy limit the casualties of energy. It doesn’t destroy any natural resources.

“Canadians are much more behind in the energy evolution because we’re so intimately connected to the narrative of petroleum as an essential energy source—it’s tied to our identity.”

Canadians are much more behind in the energy evolution because we’re so intimately connected to the narrative of petroleum as an essential energy source—it’s tied to our identity.We cannot look at our relationship with oil and gas simplistically and justify it by saying: “Well, we need to run our engines on petrol.” Our attachment to oil and gas is much more complex than that and it involves historical trauma. It involves a colonial legacy. This is something we have to move away from as a nation if we are to evolve.


The Indigenous youth population is increasing at a rate four times the national average. How can we encourage and empower Indigenous youth with better access to academic and career opportunities that are meaningful for them?

Indigenous education needs to have a stronger emphasis on the technical and trade side. Indigenous youth want jobs that allow them to live on their own land. And, renewable energy projects enable this lifestyle. We have seen great success in Indigenous communities. Indigenous individuals who have never seen solar panels in their life go through a five-day concentrated training program and become certified to contribute to building a solar farm in their community. These skill-building energy projects are essential: they take local citizens and community members, and include them in an innovative energy project.

“Beyond Indigenous youth, Millennials and the next generations are very much in line with some of our values and preferences to create an economy that has intrinsic and spiritual value.”

Beyond Indigenous youth, Millennials and the next generations are very much in line with some of our values and preferences to create an economy that has intrinsic and spiritual value.An economy that doesn’t strip away one’s connection to their land; this is a global revolution.

We’re in an information age. We’re in a digital age. We have the technology. Let’s create better jobs. The number one job creator in the United States for the last 10 years has been solar and wind energy. According to Jobs Canada, there are almost 300,000 jobs in cleantech. That’s more than oil, gas and mining combined. There are seven and a half times as many people working in clean energy than there are in forestry and logging.

So, we have the numbers on our side and the logic on our side. As long as we add job satisfaction derived from these jobs, it doesn’t even become a conversation point anymore: cleantech and clean energy are the way forward for our future economy.

“From a national perspective; we need to do what most European countries are doing: making aggressive and ambitious plans towards shifting to a renewable and circular economy; creating new jobs and increasing job satisfaction; and fostering healthier communities.”

From a national perspective; we need to do what most European countries are doing: making aggressive and ambitious plans towards shifting to a renewable and circular economy; creating new jobs and increasing job satisfaction; and fostering healthier communities. We need to embrace this opportunity and become world leaders in it.


What can industry and governments do to help accelerate the transition to an economy and society powered by renewable energy?

Most energy and private utility companies recognize that the nature of the sector is changing, and that they must be ready to shift to new business models that enable households with low incomes to get affordable electricity. That matters a lot for First Nations since they spend a disproportionate amount of their monthly income on their power and energy bills.

It doesn’t mean that the old models will be a thing of the past. They’re just going to evolve. This should be embraced, and we should all work together to decentralize our energy systems so it allows us to free up more capital, personal income and revenue for other things, as opposed to just trying to survive.

“Fully embracing the renewable energy shift would marry reconciliation principles and this new industry with the modernization and resiliency of Canada’s economy. Doing this in concert with Indigenous principles and communities would position Canada as a global leader within it.”

From our own experience, government has supported us and our cleantech community partners. There are several good renewable energy policies and programs that should broaden opportunities to power Indigenous communities.  One is Western Economic Diversification, which does a great job at addressing the inequities remote communities face.

Although expanding the power grids of Indigenous communities is essential, more should also be done regarding Canadians and First Nations that are already connected to the grid. We need a national energy strategy focused on the transition to renewable energy and one that draws from the success of America and European nations where the renewables sector has led to unprecedented job creation. These nations now have over 10 million people employed in renewable energy. Fully embracing the renewable energy shift would marry reconciliation principles and this new industry with the modernization and resiliency of Canada’s economy. Doing this in concert with Indigenous principles and communities would position Canada as global leaders within it.


What does economic reconciliation mean to you? What are the main components of success in this respect, and how must they be driven forward?

Economic reconciliation is a collective effort between non-Indigenous people and Indigenous people. It is a process; a pathway. It’s a starting point of understanding that contextualizes. Every Indigenous community in Canada is going through some form of decolonization. And when I say decolonization, I mean from a place within a spectrum of healing from the effects of the colonial happening in our history.

For years, doing business with Indigenous people was viewed more as an obstacle than an opportunity. It was out of obligation that many companies partnered and engaged with First Nations. It was not always from a sincere willingness to do business or to improve their business proposals. But things are taking quite a shift, and a change is afoot. Today, the Indigenous economy is now recognized as an important player in the overall Canadian economy.

“I believe that our strongest vehicle to reconciliation is from an economic standpoint by supporting things like clean and green energy.”

What’s the most logical and modern way to create reconciliation? I believe that our strongest vehicle to reconciliation is from an economic standpoint by supporting things like clean and green energy. These are two things that are stable and have financial returns that last 20 to 30 years. And they last as long as the sun shines, the wind blows, and a project does not offend or violate Indigenous relationships to their territory and land. For me, that is a big part of reconciliation and that will be my focus.


Part of the Indigenous Economic Development Series presented by:

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