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From Mi’gmaq communities in the Gaspé Peninsula harnessing the power of wind to a health centre powered by solar in Lubicon Lake First Nation in Alberta, the energy transition is underway and is being led by Indigenous communities.

A new guide highlights those stories, along with others across Canada. Released Monday by Sacred Earth Solar, Indigenous Climate Action, David Suzuki Foundation, Power to the People and Real World Media, the guide highlights examples showing Indigenous communities embracing clean energy and a just transition, leading to far-reaching benefits. Called the Indigenous Just Transition Guide, the research is meant to inspire and educate Indigenous communities on pathways towards clean energy that include Indigenous sovereignty and leadership and be a resource for all levels of government as they implement climate policy.

A truly just transition off fossil fuels needs to be informed by existing stories of Indigenous success and centre a variety of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives, the report notes. In Canada, Indigenous communities are building solar, wind and other renewable projects at a swift rate. In 2020, not-for-profit Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise noted there are almost 200 medium to large renewable projects either nearing completion or already in operation with some level of Indigenous participation.

As reported by The Canadian Press, new data not yet released by the not-for-profit shows Indigenous communities “now own, co-own or have a defined financial benefit agreement in place for almost 20 per cent of Canada's electricity generating infrastructure,” making them the largest asset owners outside of utilities.

“The Just Transition Guide provides inspiring case studies where Indigenous communities are taking a lead on real climate solutions while also showing a path forward for our communities who are not sure where to start,” said Jayce Chiblow of Garden River First Nation, who is the education and training manager at Indigenous Climate Action

“Created by and for Indigenous peoples, this guide is not only an impactful resource on the path to a just and equitable future, but is also a resource that considers the unique needs and challenges our communities face.”

Melina Laboucan-Massimo has seen many examples of Indigenous communities taking renewable energy into their own hands. The health centre powered by solar in Lubicon Lake First Nation is in Laboucan-Massimo’s home community of Little Buffalo.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo in front of solar panels in Little Buffalo. Photo by Gregory Miller / UVIC

She set up the solar project as part of her master’s thesis and has since worked to highlight Indigenous-led renewable energy projects across Canada in her documentary series Power to the People. The guide stems from research she started during her master’s in Indigenous governance, which she then expanded during a fellowship at the David Suzuki Foundation and through her documentary series.

From Mi’gmaq communities in the Gaspé Peninsula harnessing the power of wind to a health centre powered by solar in Lubicon Lake First Nation in Alberta, the energy transition is underway and is being led by Indigenous communities.

“While our whole world transitions to renewable energy from fossil fuels, it is essential that we are critical and we are aware of the impacts … of clean energy, so we do not replicate the same systems of harm that have been perpetuated from the previous energy era,” explained Laboucan-Massimo, who is also founder of Sacred Earth Solar and co-founder of Indigenous Climate Action.

Rather than large energy companies coming into communities, much like what is done with fossil fuels, the guide stresses that solutions for a just transition need to include Indigenous-led projects. The opposite is already occurring, notably with the Ring of Fire, a mineral deposit the Ontario government says is vital for the future of electric vehicles, the authors note. Grassy Narrows, Wapekeka, Neskantaga, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, and Muskrat Dam First Nations have all been pushing back against the mining: they say the plan’s consequences have not been adequately considered and the government hasn’t consulted them.

“Not only are renewable energy projects used to perpetuate systems of colonization for the benefit of non-Indigenous peoples and cities, governments and oil and gas corporations are using renewable energy projects as a way to greenwash their bad reputation,” notes the report.

Bill C-50

The Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, also known as Bill C-50, moved to second reading in late October. In its current form, the bill requires the government to publish sustainable job action plans every five years and create a partnership council to provide ongoing advice to the government and ensure workers have the opportunity to contribute to the plans over time.

The guide highlights a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report that notes Canada’s policies around phasing out coal by 2030, which include specific protections for workers, will largely benefit white men born in Canada. The clean energy transition will benefit that same group unless policies are put forward to intentionally diversify the workforce, the report found.

Bill C-50 is also “narrowly focused” on jobs, notes the guide, which says the legislation “does not include the need for entire communities, municipalities, and provinces to transition, missing the opportunity to solve much more than our climate problems.”

“The principles and strategies of the just transition extend beyond our energy systems, as we also advocate for just relationships with one another and with the natural world.”

Severn Cullis-Suzuki, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation, said the 10 key lessons offered in the report, which include “community engagement and relationships are vital” among others, are just the starting point for what can be gleaned from the guide and the experiences it documents.

“Indigenous Peoples have been living and working with nature since time immemorial — it's thrilling to see nations' and communities’ leadership in the renewable energy economy and just transition in Canada,” said Cullis-Suzuki.

“If Canada believes in reconciliation and Indigenous rights, then all levels of government need to implement policies and funding that support communities and help ensure the inevitable transition to renewable energy is equitable and just, leaving no person or community behind.”

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