Indigenous-owned company brings renewable energy to First Nations

W Dusk is helping to install renewable energy sources in First Nations across the country, providing an alternative to diesel and gas.

‘Renewable energy re-establishes our relationship with the land,’ W Dusk owner David Isaac says

David Isaac, owner and CEO of W Dusk, stands on the roof of the Lower Nicola Indian Band school in Merritt, B.C. (Courtesy of David Isaac)

W Dusk is helping to install renewable energy sources in First Nations across the country, providing an alternative to diesel and gas.

The Vancouver-based company launches renewable energy projects, often in First Nations, with a focus on adding to the beauty of the environment and hiring locals to help with the installation. It specializes in renewable energy projects involving solar, wind and hydrokinetic energy.

The company was launched by David Isaac, a Mi'kmaq originally from Listuguj, Que.

"[W Dusk] is actually an abbreviation of my traditional Mi'kmaq name given to me by my father and the chief of my hometown … and it means northern lights," Isaac said.

"Solar winds create aurora borealis, so I come by my profession honestly."

W Dusk has completed projects for the Lubicon Lake Band, Alta., and Lower Nicola Indian Band in Merritt, B.C. They are also booked for several future projects, Isaac said.

The reason renewable energy is becoming increasingly popular among First Nations is because it aligns with their cultural ideals, he said.

"Renewable energy re-establishes our relationship with the land in a more harmonic and a more fitting way that our ancestors would choose," said Isaac.

'Contribute to the built environment'

W Dusk's renewable energy projects are designed to be visually pleasing, Isaac said.

"We want to contribute to the built environment. We just don't want to to make a boring, hidden rooftop solar project. We like to add an esthetic." 

For the Lower Nicola Indian Band, W Dusk installed solar panels along the roof of the school, which "reflects the blue sky," Isaac said.

"It glows; it almost vibrates. It's a source of pride and a visual statement [for the community]," said Isaac.

Some of the company's designs are also political.

In 2015, the company was approached by Melina Laboucan-Massimo, of the Lubicon Indian Band, Alta., to install solar panels to provide energy for the community centre. 

"People laughed at us, because Lubicon is in the tarsands.… [They] thought it was crazy to put solar energy in Alberta," Isaac said.

W Dusk installed 10 large solar panels that were suspended eight metres in the air.

Solar panels were installed for the Lubicon Lake Band in Alberta. (Courtesy of Lubicon Solar/Facebook)

"We've been digging and putting our heads in the dirt, digging up dirty energy since too long," Isaac said.

"We wanted to do something symbolic by putting them reaching up towards the sky, which is the complete opposite direction."

Benefits to renewable energy

The project is one of many ideas Laboucan-Massimo has to integrate renewable energy into the landscape of her community, who, with the help of chief and council, fundraised for the solar panels.

She plans to explore other solar projects and also wants to bring in net zero housing, which is housing that produces as much energy as it uses. 

"Most communities up north are diesel dependent, so you're actually utilizing and bringing in that type of fossil fuel for the houses," said Laboucan-Massimo. "It's really quite expensive."

In addition to going into First Nations to install renewable energy structures, W Dusk provides tutorials to young people in the community, teaching them about solar energy and giving them a chance to hook up sample solar panels.

Members of the Lubicon Lake Band help to install a solar panel. (Melina Laboucan-Massimo/Greenpeace)

"With every community we go to, we like to do a side project, where we train the youth about solar energy," said Isaac. "In Lubicon, the youth were heavily involved in the project."

For the build, the community hired people from Lubicon to help with the construction, which Laboucan-Massimo said was essential to keep the project going.

"I feel if you go in and put a project up, it's not really going to have as much of an impact [as training community members]," said Laboucan-Massimo.

W Dusk is set to start a project in Skidegate, a small community in Haida Gwaii.

The company is going to hire a Haida artist to create a sculpture out of locally sourced cedar, which will house a generator fuelled by solar panels integrated into the sculpture, Isaac said. The generator will be a backup energy option for the community centre. 

"It's actually going to light up at night. It's going to glow," said Isaac.