Edmonton

Cree youths explore impact of solar project on community through film

A six-acre solar farm on the Ermineskin Cree Nation, south of Edmonton, is the backdrop of five short films created by Indigenous teenagers.

Ermineskin Cree Nation’s solar farm set to generate megawatt of power this spring

The Ermineskin Cree Nation's solar farm served as a backdrop for a short film created by Elias Burnstick, right, about Elder Ron Littlechild, left, and the community. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

A six-acre solar farm on the Ermineskin Cree Nation, south of Edmonton, is the backdrop of five short films created by Indigenous teenagers.

Twelve students from Ermineskin Junior High School explored the farm's impact on their community through the eyes of five elders. 

Elias Burnstick, 15, and two classmates, told the story of Elder Ron Littlechild. 

"My favourite part was going to his house, talking with him and learning more about him," Burnstick said. 

"Everybody has a story to tell. My story is just beginning, but people have stories that go on for years." 

For Littlechild, sharing his story and the history of the Ermineskin Cree Nation was a way to connect with a younger generation. 

"I was a little leery at first," he recalled with a laugh. "But I thought, I should go back and tell the story of this community and what we did in years past."

The solar farm represents a bright economic future, he said, as well as a return to Indigenous roots. 

"We have used the sun in prior years and centuries; it keeps the people warm," Littlechild said. "Now, we're going to use the sun again to generate warmth for the people in this community and the surrounding area." 

The short films were facilitated by Reel Youth, a Canadian production company that teaches the basics of filmmaking to young people interested in telling local stories.

"When you put a camera in a young person's hands and ask them to interview an elder, it gives them the power to ask questions that they wouldn't necessarily ask," said director Mark Vonesch.

"It brings up stories and history that's important for the young people to know."

The five films will be presented to the community and shared online next month. 

The solar farm, Sundancer, covers six acres and will generate a megawatt of power. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

The Sundancer solar project, owned by the Neyaskweyahk Group of Companies Inc., the corporate division of Ermineskin Cree Nation. It was built by Sky Fire Energy, a Calgary-based solar company. 

Starting this spring, the solar farm will generate a megawatt of electricity that will be sold to Alberta's grid. 

"Sundancer will help us generate revenues and then continue to reinvest it back into our community," said Sam Minde, NGCI president. 

NGCI is already planning to expand the solar farm, hoping to generate another megawatt of power by the summer.

Minde is glad to see Ermineskin youth learning about the solar project by engaging with elders.

"Youth see this, really ask questions, really want to know about how it works," Minde said. "And then we can also use the knowledge of our elders and talk about how we had relationships with the sun."

The solar farm represents opportunity and a potential legacy for the community, Littlechild said.

"This energy here that we're going to be generating, it's going to be here for a long, long time," he said. "The youth are going to benefit, the younger generations, and generations after that."

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