By Ian Scholten & Isaac Prazmowski
On July 10, 2016, sixteen Indigenous people who had never met before, joined each other in Wakefield, Quebec for the inaugural week of the 20/20 Catalysts Program. They came from far and wide. From Tobique First Nation in the east to Xeni Gwet’in First Nation in west. Iqaluit in the north to the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne in the south. The group included people like Eileen Marlowe, a Communications Advisor for the Government of Northwest Territories, David Jeremiah, an Energy Manager for North Caribou Lake First Nation, and Dylan Whiteduck, an Economic Development Officer for Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. Though they came from different parts of the country, held different roles, and had different experiences, they shared a vision of using clean energy to benefit their communities.
And they’d come to the 20/20 Catalysts Program to learn how to do this in the most effective way possible.
Developed by Lumos Clean Energy Advisors and the Aboriginal Human Resource Council, the Program promotes clean energy across Canada by giving participants the tools, know-how, and network they need to achieve their clean energy vision. It’s the most thorough Indigenous clean energy capacity building program in Canada.
Learning in the Program is led by over two dozen Indigenous and non-Indigenous mentors and experts with a proven track record of developing successful clean energy projects.
These mentors include people like Troy Jerome, Executive Director of the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat, who spurred the development of an over $300-million-dollar wind farm which has 50% ownership by the three local Mi’gmaq communities. Troy emphasized the fact that “the wind farm wasn’t a wind farm project; it was a nation building project” for the First Nations involved. It’s a mantra that truly reflects the potential of clean energy projects for Indigenous communities.
The week in Wakefield was the first of three weeks of intensive learning that the Catalysts (program participants) will go through. Throughout these weeks they’ll cover five key skill areas that are needed maximize the social and economic benefits communities see through clean energy projects: community engagement, economic development, job creation, project financing, and legacy building.
Though they’re only a third of the way through the Program, the vision and impact of this year’s group of Catalysts is already astounding.
David Jeremiah of North Caribou Lake First Nation, is “proud to be part of this historic moment for Indigenous communities” – referring to the tipping point for Indigenous leadership in clean energy development in Canada. North Caribou Lake is a diesel dependent community and is currently on grid-restriction, which means they have no room for growth because their generators are not able to produce the required additional power. Yet David sees an opportunity here. He is turning to clean energy and energy efficient designs in order to construct much needed housing that is entirely self-sufficient – not reliant on diesel at all.
Others, like Grant Sullivan, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Council International, and JP Pinard, who is working with Kluane First Nation, are collaborating in an effort to accelerate the opportunities to develop renewable energy development across the northern territories where many communities still rely on diesel powered generators.
Still others, like Tanna Pirie-Wilson, CEO of Tobique First Nation, see the tremendous potential for clean energy to facilitate reconciliation as Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses and communities come together to develop projects that yield greater returns than could be produced by any one group going it alone.
The network developed through the Program – linking Catalysts to mentors, experts, and supporting organizations like Bullfrog Power, NB Power, the Government of Ontario, and IBM – will connect previously disjointed Indigenous clean energy efforts and pave the way for unprecedented cooperation among Canadians.
And that is ultimately what this is all about: creating a system to expand Indigenous clean energy capacity and develop renewable energy projects.
Currently there are over 100 clean energy projects with Indigenous involvement in Canada. The participants in the Program are part of a group catalyzing another 200 large scale projects in the coming years, generating immense benefits for communities across the country.
If any of this gets you excited, learn more about the Program at: www.2020catalystsprogram.com. Applications are now open for the 2017 Program.