New Brunswick

Neqotkuk First Nation students help build solar farm for sustainable future

A new solar farm was unveiled at Neqotkuk First Nation, also known as Tobique, this week, thanks to the hard work of 20 students who learned on the job while working on the project.

10-kilowatt project will power community's employment and training centre, Pow Wow grounds

A man in a black golf shirt stands in front of a sign that says Neqotkuk Tobique.
Matthew Sisneros took part in the program and was hired at the end of it by Smart Energy Company as a solar installer. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

A new solar farm was unveiled at Neqotkuk First Nation, also known as Tobique, this week, thanks to the hard work of 20 students who learned on the job while working on the project.

They're part of a training program that brought together the skills of the electrical trade with traditional elder knowledge to build the 10-kilowatt solar farm in northwestern New Brunswick.

"This might be small, but it's mighty," says Karen Gillam, founder and CEO of Workforce Warriors, a non-profit Indigenous employment group, based near Fredericton.

"It's a mighty contribution … all Indigenous communities are being leaders right now in sustainability."

The training was part of a Workforce Warriors learning program, where students were taught electrical skills and also did cultural work.

Woman wearing white shirt and salmon colored cardigan faced away from camera with solar panels and small shed-like building in background.
Karen Gillam is the founder and CEO of Workforce Warriors. She says projects like this one are important in order to reach vulnerable youth in Indigenous communities. (Roger Cosman/ CBC News )

The program takes what is referred to as a two-eyed seeing approach, which Gillam describes as the intentional act of "seeing through both eyes."

"One eye with the mainstream non-Indigenous mindset, whether it be industry or scientific knowledge. And then with the other eye you apply an Indigenous mindset." she says.

WATCH | How training Neqotkuk's youth promises a sustainable future:

Neqotkuk community members build a solar farm in 12 weeks

3 months ago
Duration 2:05
A 10 kilowatt solar farm is unveiled on Neqotkuk​ Fi​​​​​rst ​N​ation — a step toward green infrastructure for the future.

Two-eyed seeing took shape in Neqotkuk with the students learning the practical skills to build the solar farm from a red seal electrician and learning about their cultural from Indigenous elders.

"We do cultural work with elders and knowledge keepers throughout the program in order to create that connection with the ancestors, with ceremony, traditional knowledge [and] their language," Gillam said.

Gillam says it's important to develop training such as this within Indigenous communities.

"We like to reach vulnerable youth," she said.

Preparing for future generations

The solar farm will be able to provide energy equivalent to the needs of an average-sized home. It will be used to power the community's employment and training centre and its Pow Wow grounds, and is intended to be a pilot for future renewable energy projects in the community. 

The project is funded by Electricity Human Resources Canada, is a non-profit employment group focused on finding workers for the energy sector, and executed in partnership with Smart Energy Company, a solar technology business, and the New Brunswick Community College.

A solar panel sits in front of a building with other buildings and cars nearby.
Neqotkuk community members built the solar farm in 12 weeks, combining electrical-trade training, elder-derived cultural learning and practical, hands-on skills. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Some of the students have found employment right away, including Matthew Sisneros, who's been hired by Smart Energy Company as solar installer. 

Sisneros will be working on a 100-kilowatt solar installation for a farmer near Quispamsis  — a project 10 times the size of the one in Neqotkuk.

A large part of what of what makes sustainability work important to Sisneros has to do with his three-year-old daughter.

"You know my daughter, I can show her things like this. She goes to school down the street, so she'd seen me actually working on it … In the future she'll understand what this does and why it's good for the environment and why I'm excited about it."

He said this is a step forward "to saving the environment and making it better for our future kids — our future generations."

Man in pink t-shirt with "Neqotkuk Art Studio" written in dark pink lettering looking away from camera with solar panels in background.
Neqotkuk Chief Ross Perley says the solar farm is a pilot for sustainable infrastructure projects that he and his council would like to see in the community's future. (Roger Cosman / CBC News)

A sentiment echoed by Neqotkuk Chief Ross Perley.

"The new generation has a larger awareness of the environment globally and what they need to do as a generation to make things better," Perley said.

"In our nation we look out for the next seven generations," he said, "in order to do what you have to do" to take care of the environment.

Perley say's the farm is a snapshot for what he would like to see for his community in the future.

"Me and my council, we'd like to have all of our infrastructure powered by green energy and this is the start of that."

Using Indigenous perspectives to build sustainable businesses 

Jeff McAloon, chief development officer of Smart Energy Company, has industry growth in mind and says the two-eyed seeing approach is integral to the business.

"The main objective of this whole project was to train the workforce of the future," he said.

Man wearing light blue shirt with "the smart energy company" written in white on the upper left with grey facial hair, looking away from camera. Solar panels in the background.
Jeff McAloon of Smart Energy Company says the goal is to train a workforce for the future. (Roger Cosman / CBC News)

"There's no secret that there's a skill shortage in many industries, he said.

"So for us to be able to hire two youth from this area, who now have hands on [experience] that also come with that two-eyed seeing approach that Indigenous folks bring to everything that they do in life, that's really important for our company."


Nipun Tiwari


Nipun Tiwari is a reporter assigned to community engagement and based in Saint John, New Brunswick. He can be reached at

With files from Jacob Moore

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