Corey Cote-Diabo calls housing energy efficiency the “unseen” battleground of the climate crisis. Energy efficiency is not visible like a solar project. Instead, it’s hidden like centralized piping in a home that is properly sealed and ventilated.

“It's much cheaper to save a kilowatt than to produce a kilowatt, so energy efficiency is the natural first step,” Cote-Diabo said about energy efficiency’s role in the climate transition.

Cote-Diabo helped develop the Project Accelerator program that trains Indigenous community members to become leaders in energy-efficiency housing projects.

The program is managed through Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE), a non-governmental organization that advances Indigenous inclusion in the energy transition.

Program participants learn at on-site training sessions. Photo courtesy of Liam Brennan / Indigenous Clean Energy

Cote-Diabo now acts as program manager for Bringing It Home, ICE’s national initiative centred on braiding energy efficiency with Indigenous-led housing development. The Project Accelerator is its flagship program, spanning 18 months of capacity-building training, mentorship and funding to support the start-up and development of an energy efficiency project.

The program arrives at a time when Indigenous nations are in the midst of a housing crisis. The Assembly of First Nations has estimated that closing the infrastructure gap in First Nations will require hundreds of billions in investment. In a study, the assembly estimated around $73 billion will be needed over 20 years to meet the needs of 634 First Nations.

Cote-Diabo blames poor building quality for the long-standing housing crisis. “Either there’s no building standards or no quality assurance,” Cote-Diabo said.

He points to contractors going into nations and doing shoddy work, making a quick buck and heading out, leaving homes that deteriorate fast. They are drafty with high energy costs and this sometimes leads to mould problems, which can also cause health-care crises in communities.

Corey Cote-Diabo blames poor building quality for the long-standing housing crisis. “Either there’s no building standards or no quality assurance,” he said. #Climate #Reconciliation

This is where the Project Accelerator steps in. The program is building leaders and project managers in Indigenous nations who know how to ask the right questions, create healthy partnerships and develop community-led projects so nations do not have to rely on third parties to do the work.

“I’d love to create employment in the community, and that’s something we talk a lot about,” he added.

Still, Cote-Diabo says the program is not prescriptive, and instead supports program participants in their projects and professional development, keeping with the key mandate of ICE to be capacity-builders in Indigenous nations.

Last week, Cote-Diabo and representatives from 16 different Indigenous nations descended on Wakefield, Que., which sits half an hour from Ottawa. The participants networked, workshopped their projects and received training on the foundations and fundamentals of energy efficiency.

In one of the many sessions throughout the week, participants rotated through five stations, practising some wobbly caulking skills and learning the ins and outs of insulation and the importance of maintaining housing ventilation systems. There was also a brainstorming station with lists on chart paper of energy-efficiency tips, such as hanging laundry to dry or ensuring appliance seals.

It’s an exercise the participants can bring to their community engagement sessions, program leads told participants when the training session finished. A raffle was also held, with prizes spanning from hardware supplies to mugs and puzzles.

It was the second on-site training session of the 18-month program. The program also includes a $125,000 grant that helps participants develop their energy-efficiency projects.

A program participant sits at a table at a training session held last week. Photo courtesy of Liam Brennan / Indigenous Clean Energy

Take Flora Elluk, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation in B.C. and an employee with the Haíɫzaqv Climate Action, the First Nation’s community-led transition plan. Elluk is project manager of the Healthy Haíɫzaqv Homes Initiative, which is focused on building sustainable, affordable and energy-efficient homes with a strong cultural foundation.

It was popular in the nation. Last year, as part of their passive house project’s community engagement process, Elluk said so many people arrived that more tables were needed.

This enthusiasm is the result of the project’s strong community engagement that brought a sense of ownership and agency to the housing development, Elluk told Canada’s National Observer.

Now, Elluk can point to what she learned in the program when she does need to hire contractors for projects. She knows what to look for with building codes and the quality of builds and can sniff out unnecessary extras a contractor might try to add.

And the best part? Elluk did not have to be uprooted from her community for years to gain her expertise and professional development.

It’s important to her because “you need someone who has buy-in, who has an emotional connection to the community that you're working in, and who is willing to learn what needs to be learned to push the plans through.”

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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Very inspiring and hopeful. We need more stories like this.

whatever happened to the R2000 insulation standard?

An R-2000* qualified home is constructed by a licensed and trained builder. It is evaluated, inspected and tested by an independent third-party and is certified by the Government of Canada. The homeowner receives a certificate, label, and report confirming the status of the house.
Besides including a whole-house mechanical ventilation system, including a heat-recovery device, R-2000* builders can also include a number of other clean-air measures such as selecting a carpet that is certified green, using water-based paints and varnishes and installing cabinets and floor underlayment that is formaldehyde-free.

This is v. similar to the Passive House standard, a German certification (Passiv Haus) that is also used in Canada.