Sandra Sutter PTW Energy
Sandra Sutter
Manager, Indigenous Partnerships - PTW Energy

Indigenous Participation in Canada’s Energy Transition

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  1. The co-development of supports between Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders paves the way for meaningful participation of Indigenous people in the economy, the complete health of communities and businesses, and reconciliation.
  2. National Indigenous organizations have tremendous knowledge on how Indigenous people can participate fully in the energy transition while honouring the needs of the community.
  3. Including land-based knowing from Indigenous knowledge sharers can contribute more meaningfully to the energy transition than science can alone.


Indigenous peoples and settler Canadians must share knowledge and educate one another on different ways of being and knowing in order to create a more sustainable world. Exchanging separate understandings of the land and industry will help to ensure Indigenous peoples’ meaningful inclusion in Canada’s energy transition.

Why is it important to include Indigenous perspectives and have Indigenous people participate in Canada’s energy transition?  

It could be perceived as a simple question, but your perspective always influences an answer. We are better together and there is no sustainability without land-based knowing and land-based ways of knowing.  

I can talk to you about some examples that Elders have shared around abandoned wells, with companies trying and not being able to find them, and not believing an Elder when he stood on a hill and pointed and said, “It is right there,” and they went, “You cannot possibly know that.” All the scientists say to the Indigenous Elder that you cannot possibly know that. He did, and he taught them how to know that by looking at the land. What a fantastic teaching that is, and it makes their job a lot easier when they respect that land-based knowing.  

“Co-development of meaningful supports increases the ability of Indigenous people to participate in the economy.” 

Full participation in the Canadian economy increases the gross domestic product for all of us; capacity-building creates a better future for all of us, a better collective future. Co-development of meaningful supports increases the ability of Indigenous people to participate in the economy, not to mention reconciliation. The situation is better, depending on your perspective, and it will look different for everyone. For Indigenous peoples, if we are able to return to complete health for all of us, in all aspects of who we are as individuals, that will influence the complete health of the community and all of our businesses.  

What does meaningful inclusion of Indigenous people in Canada’s energy transition look like to you?  

From my perspective, meaningful inclusion of Indigenous peoples in our energy world and energy environment means they have the ability to participate in ways that are meaningful to them. Does that mean they have the ability to start businesses that are meaningful to them to participate? Or does that mean that the colonial Western way of thinking comes into their communities and says, “These are the areas that we need some services, provide those”? There is a disconnect there. We need to meet together and talk about where we can shift and evolve so that there is opportunity for all of us to participate in the energy economy and transition into a low carbon environment.  

What are the barriers to meaningful participation of Indigenous people in Canada’s energy transition?  

There are historical colonialist systemic blockages to Indigenous peoples’ participation in the economy. You have to think about the thinking that has evolved in an impoverished community because they were not allowed to go to school, they were not allowed to hire lawyers to protect their rights. They were not allowed to have jobs, even when they were given the opportunity to participate in agriculture it was taken away from them because they were too good at it and it upset the surrounding Western farmers. That thinking that has been so pervasive in the way that the economies of Indigenous peoples have been treated, and we have survived despite all of that, and that thinking creates a need to ensure that ethical space is found when we engage in these conversations.  

“There are historical colonialist systemic blockages to Indigenous peoples’ participation in the economy.” 

We do not have access to capital, we do not necessarily have an Indigenous business in a remote community, and the community might not have reliable internet access. How much time did we spend making sure that we had everything we needed for this interview? We need to make sure we have everything we need to have a business, let alone an interview. If you do not have running water, reliable internet access or a driver’s license because you cannot get identification due to systemic colonial thinking that impacts your ability to access those kinds of services, or because you do not trust the systems that are in place for Westerners, it is hard to fully participate in the economy. 

What are the opportunities for Indigenous communities in the energy transition?  

One of the things it can bring, as we engage in these deeper conversations, is the ability to contribute to an economy that you can ethically support based on your own values and cultures; that your land-based ways of knowing and being can contribute much more meaningfully than science alone can. 

We talk about the ways that you increase capacity in a community and the ways companies like ours can engage Indigenous communities through partnerships both formal and informal. We look at opportunities to engage community members in employment and training practices, material spend, procurement, and what they know about end projects while we are transitioning to a different way of creating energy in this world.  

“Land-based ways of knowing and being can contribute much more meaningfully than science alone can.” 

Industry needs to ensure that if we have meaningful partnerships with a community that we also contribute to their ability to increase the capacity meaningfully on their own terms. Of those companies that participate in our projects and influence the people that hire us, how do we ensure that we can help them benefit from what we have learned over the years on how to meaningful engage, not from my perspective, not from the perspective of PTW, but based on what the community says? It is about what they want to do, how they want to participate, how they can participate and how they want to see their community. 

PTW Energy is not Indigenous-owned or funded, so you might perhaps feel you have one foot in two different worlds. Do you feel that paradox? Are you sort of a bridge?  

I am very honoured to be, in some cases, a bridge. Sometimes I have difficulty explaining the things that I know to be true about how knowledge of Indigenous peoples is the knowledge that will save us all. It is the strength-based culture, and everyone looking at it can benefit from being able to even begin to understand. 

My understanding of Indigenous culture is very tiny; I am just as I have heard my Elders say. They say they are babies in this way of knowing. I am so much less, but the little things that I know and can pass on to industry has to be something I pass on in a way that industry can hear.  

I can speak in ways that talk about GDP and what Indigenous peoples can bring to the Canadian GDP, but that is a Western value. For a community, I know them enough to know what their values are, what is important to them, and how I talk about things that are important to them. 

“I can speak in ways that talk about GDP and what Indigenous peoples can bring to the Canadian GDP, but that is a Western value.” 

PTW very much embraces our Indigenous partnerships, and I sit on more than 13 boards and committees across Canada so I can find ways to build capacity for Indigenous communities and organizations. One of those initiatives is with non-Indigenous organizations and we are building a program together for Indigenous youth to participate in the economy of the future.  

What other considerations must we take into account during the energy transition?  

I believe national Indigenous organizations have tremendous knowledge about how an Indigenous economy can participate fully, honouring the needs of the community.  We have to lean on the knowledge of the national Indigenous organizations, and I think we need to have government-to-government relationships, but we also need community-to-community relationships, and citizen-to-citizen. We need to ensure that we involve the program and policy influencers because if our policies do not change, our economy is not going to change. It cannot be based only on politics; it has to be based on the desires and future participation of all citizens of Turtle Island.  

“National Indigenous organizations have tremendous knowledge about how an Indigenous economy can participate fully, honouring the needs of the community.” 

What I would like to see is people doing more research in the tar sands, understanding the environment before and the learnings for that industry, the reclamation efforts today and how industry was the genesis of many Indigenous business participation efforts that are substantial in the oil and gas environment. That transition, why we need to learn from the oil sands, what the lessons are, and what they did that worked and did not work—why has that become the one thing that most people across the planet look at and say it is evil in terms of the environment? 

What is your pitch for improving Indigenous participation in Canada’s energy transition?  

I would pitch to the people like the guy from Schitt’s Creek who is getting all the buzz right now for participating in the University of Alberta’s Massive Open Online Course called Indigenous Canada.  And what is is the next step in the energy transition? I believe the next step is to understand land-based ways of knowing and being on the land, so that we have and create a sustainable future.

The next step, I believe, is the Indigenous Community-Industry Relations program that the University of Alberta Faculty of Extension offers, because that took 10 years to develop. It is co-taught by Indigenous scholars and Elders, and it teaches not only people outside of Indigenous cultures ways of knowing and being, but Indigenous communities to understand how industry thinks. Then, we can find a way to talk to one another and create together that sustainable future we are looking for.  

Sandra Sutter PTW Energy
Sandra Sutter
Manager, Indigenous Partnerships - PTW Energy

Bio: Sandra Sutter is a Cree Métis woman from the Prairies, the Indigenous Partnerships Manager for PTW Energy Services and CGT Industrial, and the Executive Director for the Circle for Aboriginal Relations Society. She is also an award-winning recording artist who serves on a number of boards and committees across Canada as an advocate for Indigenous peoples. 


Organization Profile: PTW Energy Services is a private company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta that provides solutions for fabrication, construction and maintenance services through a network that extends across Canada and the US. The company was established in 2014 after a merger between Pyramid Corporation, Tarpon Energy Services, and Warwick Structures Group.