Indigenous Ownership in the Energy Transition

Canada has an abundance of renewable resources that can be used to produce energy. Moving water, wind, solar, tidal and bioenergy all make an important contribution to Canada’s energy generation.

Indigenous Peoples are at the forefront of Canada’s clean energy transition. According to a 2022 paper by Indigenous Clean Energy, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit entities are partners or beneficiaries of almost 20% of Canada’s electricity-generating infrastructure, and almost all of that infrastructure produces renewable energy. The paper emphasizes the fact that Indigenous Peoples, communities, and organizations have played a major leadership role in the greening of electricity. One important outcome of this leadership is major contributions to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

 

 

Colonialism in Canada still impacts Indigenous Peoples today. Strengthening Indigenous clean energy ownership is a step towards decolonizing power. This is a core pillar of the process of national reconciliation, and reflective of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), which received Royal Ascent in 2021 and was legislated in November 2019 in British Columbia with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

Internationally, there have been more than 200 allegations of abuse by renewable energy companies in the last 10 years, according to the 2021 Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark report, produced by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC). Abuses include land and water grabs, violation of the rights of Indigenous nations, and the denial of workers’ rights to decent work and a living wage. One such case resulted in Norway’s supreme court ruling in 2021 that two wind farms in central Norway violated Indigenous Sami rights under international conventions. 

These human rights impacts highlight just how crucial Indigenous ownership and decision-making regarding projects on ancestral lands are to the process of reconciliation. Upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples is essential to the clean energy transition.

There is still considerable work to be done to dismantle the colonial history of the energy sector. The government is taking some steps in the right direction by affirming Indigenous rights through the adoption of legislation, funding communities, and building collaboration with Indigenous leaders as equals. Further barriers must be overcome, through a commitment to sustained funding, trust-building, and engagement and collaboration with Indigenous communities

There is much to be gained from greater Indigenous ownership in the energy transition. Eliminating reliance on diesel in Canada’s remote communities will be transformational. The clean energy transition will allow Canadians everywhere to save money on their energy bills. It is predicted that the average household spending on energy will decrease by 12% by 2050. Electricity bills will be more stable and predictable, as Canadians move away from fossil fuels which have more volatile prices.

If we get the energy transition right, it could support economic reconciliation, help address the climate crisis and issues of affordability and fairness, improve health, create jobs, and serve as a new model for the world.

We can learn from successful examples of Indigenous-led renewable energy. Bullfrog Power, a Canadian renewable energy company, has worked on several projects that involved co-benefit sharing and co-equity models, including the largest solar farm in the province of Manitoba. Collaborating with Indigenous-owned energy firm W Dusk Group and the Fisher River Cree Nation, Indigenous workers were hired and trained to build the farm, and the aim is to generate revenue for the community and inspire other First Nations to pursue renewable energy solutions.

The clean energy future for Canada cannot be realized unless there is respectful and substantive participation of Indigenous Peoples, their governments, and organizations.

We encourage you to listen to this conversation between David Isaac (W Dusk Energy Group Inc, President and CEO), Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson (Haida Nation, General Counsel), and Hillary Thatcher (Senior Director, Project Development, Indigenous Infrastructure, Canada Infrastructure Bank) as they discuss Indigenous partnerships for the transition to sustainable energy.

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