Gathering aims to spark green energy projects in Indigenous communities

People from Indigenous communities across Canada are in Wakefield, Que., this week to learn about ways to develop renewable energy projects in their territories.

Participants from 20 Indigenous communities in Wakefield, Que., to learn about renewable energy projects

Program participants meet with leaders in renewable energy to discuss ways to engage their communities in projects. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

People from Indigenous communities across Canada are in Wakefield, Que., this week to learn about ways to develop renewable energy projects in their territories.

They're taking part in an initiative called the 20/20 Catalysts Program, developed by Lumos Clean Energy Advisors and the Aboriginal Human Resources Council.

"They're learning from mentors — Indigenous leaders who've done clean energy projects from around the country, and experts who are in clean energy," said Chris Henderson, president of Lumos. 

"So they learn how to develop projects, do community consultation, how to employ people, how to finance projects."

20 participants from across Canada

The 20 program participants represent First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities from nearly every province and territory. They'll spend this week in Wakefield, followed by two more weeks over the summer in Bowen Island, B.C., and Noelville, Ont.

Dylan Whiteduck is an economic development officer for Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)
Dylan Whiteduck calls the training a "good opportunity." He's an economic development officer with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, north of Wakefield.

"I'd like to gain some experience in knowing how to manage projects, learn about the community engagement, how to include your community to be involved," said Whiteduck. 

"What I hope to learn from this program is to sit at a table with potential partners and know about these opportunities, and kind of have a sense and idea of what the next steps are moving forward."

Eyes on solar, wind, hydro

Henderson estimates there are more than 100 Indigenous renewable energy projects operating across Canada right now. His company acts as an advisor to communities, working with companies and different levels of government to explore renewable possibilities.

Rainy River First Nations in northwestern Ontario completed a solar energy project in 2014. (YouTube)
"If you're developing renewable energy resources — wind, hydro, solar — you're developing it on land or waters that are (traditionally) Indigenous. And if you're going to develop those resources to provide energy for Canadians, it's only fair that Indigenous communities are partners in that."

In Akwesasne, southeast of Ottawa, the community is currently studying the feasibility of solar projects, according to building officer Corey Tarbell. He sees the benefits in renewable energy projects.

"Jobs, saving energy, climate change, and actually healthier homes too," said Tarbell.

A 'stepping stone'

He said he's enjoyed meeting and learning from his counterparts from across the country, and hopes to visit their communities to learn more about how projects are working.

With utility companies increasingly seeing the potential for investment in Indigenous communities, Whiteduck calls renewable projects "the future" of energy.

"This stepping stone will lead us to becoming a renewable energy country where we don't have to rely on these other fossil fuels. And this is something that I think will not only continue to trend, but it'll just continue to grow. And in the Indigenous world, this is a great opportunity."
Corey Tarbell is a building official with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)