In honor of National Indigenous History Month 2021, we would like to honor not only the Indigenous culture and heritage around preserving nature and the natural world, but also highlight some of the innovative and advanced projects that we have learned about and are being carried out to ensure that we preserve the world going forward for future generations with renewable energy projects.
Indigenous people have had a long history of being oppressed, and the energy sector is not shy of culpability. That said, the Indigenous people are resilient and have done an incredible job at establishing resilient communities sustained by renewable energy. Not only this, but Indigenous communities are running some of the most innovative and groundbreaking renewable energy projects in Canada and around the world.
The Haida Gwaii Clean Energy Project
One particularly relevant Indigenous group to the discussion about clean, renewable energy is the Haida. An Indigenous population based on the Islands of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. Having struggled since the British arrived in 1787, the Haida have fought hard to protect their land and resources from the environmental collapse history has challenged them with. This month was an opportunity to learn more about the Haida and the way they are balancing their energy needs while maintaining their cultural practices as a focus in doing so.
Though deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of its Indigenous population, the Haida Gwaii islands house potential opportunities for improvement. The islands, hosting just under 5,000 individuals consume 10 million liters of diesel every year- half of which goes just to keep the lights on. Consuming more energy per capita annually than both British Columbia and the entirety of Canada, the need for renewable energy on Haida Gwaii is apparent. Though some renewable generation sources such as solar and wind power exist, new initiatives are beginning to transition the island to other renewable sources of energy such as geothermal, biomass, and tidal energy.
Looking to preserve their ancestral traditions of maintaining the land they are seated upon, many groups and individuals have taken upon themselves the challenge of successfully bidding for clean energy projects sponsored by the government. Of these, the Haida Gwaii Clean Energy Project is the “literal” light at the end of the tunnel.
The Haida Gwaii Clean Energy Project is a three year, two phase, project aiming to provide 100% clean energy on the Haida Gwaii islands. This $30.42 million project is paving the future for the Haida Gwaii community to thrive despite the previous challenges.
Phase one of this project involves upgrading a 300-kilowatt turbine located at a hydroelectric dam. This phase of the project looks to strengthen this existing resource within the Haida Gwaii community to maintain a resilient and sustainable source of renewable energy.
Phase two of the project incorporates solar generation contingent upon a feasibility study. This phase of the project is focused on creating a greater inter connection between the established BC hydro infrastructure and the future of the islands’ energy transportation systems.
This project emphasizes economic benefits for the Haida by providing employment directly on the island for the Indigenous community. Moreover, the latent benefits will extend well past the individuals building the variety of renewable energy resources, all the way to the local Indigenous communities that will benefit from this surge of clean, affordable, energy.
Optimism Embedded in Anticipation
Though the Haida Gwaii Clean Energy Project is a symbol of hope and determination for the future of this sacred island, it is also a necessity as the island currently generates 65% of its electricity from diesel-burning sources. With a three-year timeline in place, ambitious funding, and future opportunities contingent upon the successful completion of this project, energy self-sufficiency is in sight for the Haida. Though uncertainty lies ahead, the Haida have time again shown their resilience through their unwavering commitment to the land, their people, and their ancestral practices.
The resilience of the Haida and their commitment to the preservation of natural ecosystems echoes in the stories told worldwide. Stories of Indigenous communities are filled with an understanding of the importance of preserving the land, of the need for humans to coexist with nature, and a need for prioritization of the natural world over economic gain.
To this very day, the Haida continue to fight for the preservation of their natural, ancestral home. And not just the Haida, many Indigenous clean energy projects are well underway today. Educating ourselves on these invaluable initiatives that not only work to provide clean energy, but also to preserve the priceless cultural heritage of the people they serve, is an essential part of supporting Indigenous communities.
Indigenous Energy Endeavors Around the World
Learning about the Haida Gwaii Clean Energy Project led us to a number of other educational resources on Indigenous energy endeavors worldwide.
Indigenous Energy Down South
In the USA, Indigenous people have also had their fair share of difficulties with the energy industry. Though access to sustainable energy such as solar panels is becoming more common, similar large scale energy projects still lack much of the needed funding to continue. Fortunately, certain organizations such as Native Renewables have found ways to increase clean energy procurement for local Indigenous reservations. These include support for impacts by COVID-19 as well. This is particularly important since Indigenous communities have been hit disproportionately by the pandemic.
Indigenous Energy Down Under
In the Australian outback, a number of clean energy initiatives have been implemented in collaboration with the Aboriginal Indigenous people. In the Northern Territory of Australia on the Indigenous Arnhem Land, the government of Australia is collaborating with the Indigenous people whom the land belongs to, in order to strategically manage the environment while remaining in line with Indigenous practices. This innovative approach combines traditional ancestral practices in line with the Indigenous ways of maintaining the land alongside modern technology.
This has generated income through carbon credits for the Indigenous managers of the land, while also increasing incentives for people of Indigenous descent to return and connect with the area. This has been a win-win for both the Indigenous communities leading these projects as well as the Australian Government in helping repair relations and ensuring equal access to the Indigenous people.
Not only that, some mining companies have taken a similar approach to ensuring Indigenous heritage preservation. Having previously seen damage done to Indigenous artifacts and sacred places, some companies have allowed workers to immediately cease any work, including that done with explosives, if the land is suspected to house any Indigenous history.
Global Indigenous Energy Educative Efforts
Around the world, efforts are being made to educate and empower as many individuals as are willing to learn, with resources such as the Decolonizing Power podcast. This podcast covers inspiring energy stories in Indigenous communities. And this is just a single example of the myriad of materials available for access to education on Indigenous content.
If you are one of our Canadian readers, you can find out more information on similar projects and how you can support your local Indigenous community’s energy initiatives here. In the USA and around the world, similar initiatives are in place and local support should be shown as well.
This month, we were fortunate enough to take time and learn more about renewable energy projects being orchestrated by Indigenous communities. Though we often take having the lights on for granted, we must never forget the expense at which they may come. Educating everyone is the first step towards ensuring equal access to clean energy everywhere.
By learning more about these clean energy projects around the world, and even simply by listening to resources such as the Decolonizing Power podcast, everyone can play their part in cleaning up the world, while respecting the ancestral lands of those who came before.