The Alberta government is investing $35 million into helping Indigenous communities cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy bills and create employment.

As part of the province's climate leadership plan to invest in local renewable projects, 48 First Nations, eight Métis settlements and the Métis Nation of Alberta will benefit from the initiative.

"Indigenous Peoples are on the forefronts of the effects of climate change and it is essential that they are able to participate in all aspects of Alberta's climate leadership plan," Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan said at a news conference in Edmonton on Thursday.

"It will make life better for Indigenous people across the province and benefit our environment."

After announcing a carbon levy in January and capping oilsands emissions to 100 megatonnes a year, the province has been working to rebrand itself as a climate change leader amid its reputation for supporting climate damaging industries like coal and oil and gas operations.

Seven programs set to implement the $35 million were developed through panel discussions, dialogue with Indigenous leaders, workshops and feedback from pilot projects. The programs are in energy, climate capacity building, climate planning, energy efficiency retrofitting, green energy development, solar energy and green employment.

"The programs will assist Indigenous communities with planning, implementation and training, helping communities manage all aspects of this new, green economy," said Feehan.

Grants are available through a climate capacity planning program through the Alberta Community Energy Program for Indigenous communities to access. Applicants can find more information on the Alberta Indigenous Climate Leadership website.

Common concern

There is $14 million specifically set aside for grants for projects that improve energy efficiency in new or existing buildings owned by Indigenous communities or organizations. The money can be used to cover costs of upgraded lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning system redesign, windows, insulation and roofing.

"I really believe this falls in line with traditional responsibilities that Indigenous Peoples have for environmental stewardship," said Treaty 6 Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild.

"I think also that we have a common concern with Albertans. We have common challenges with regard to clean air and clean water. So this is a very important initiative for us and we need to find ways to work together in this area."

Over the next five years, the province plans to roll out $5.4 billion in climate funding using revenues gained from carbon pricing. The "revenue recycling" money will be distributed to various initiatives like bioenergy, renewable energy, innovation and technology, coal community transition and other climate leadership plan projects.

"Respect for the land is a fundamental value instilled in the Métis people from the day we are born," said Métis Settlements General Council president Gerald Cunningham.

"Our relationship to our land is unique and deeply spiritual one that casts us as stewards of a great blessing bestowed by the creator. Our land is the beginning of everything. It feeds us, shelters us, clothes us, and in return, we honour it, we protect it, and we endeavour to leave it better than we found it for the next generation. Given how deeply we feel our connection to our land and environment, we are very pleased to see that the Government of Alberta is taking action to tackle the serious challenges presented by climate change."

Randall Benson

Gridworks Energy Group President Randall Benson, left, shows Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan how a solar panel is installed. (Brandi Morin)

The Métis president of Gridworks Energy Group in Edmonton, a company which specializes in solar installation and training, also welcomes the news.

"As an employer and training organization, in the solar energy industry, not only will we be able to offer training to Indigenous Peoples and communities, we will be able to offer employment and those avenues needed for Indigenous business development in this exciting industry," said Randall Benson.

A total of $151 million — or three per cent — of the projected carbon levy revenues will be allocated to Indigenous communities over the next three years. In contrast, the federal government plans to invest $128.2 million over five years to help Indigenous communities across Canada with climate change.

In Alberta, Indigenous groups will be given the freedom to decide what works best for their communities when implementing the grant money, said Feehan, with the goal of supporting Indigenous leadership in helping to usher in a new, green economy.

"The success of these initiatives with Indigenous Peoples with these projects will mean success for all of Alberta," he said.