Smoothing the way for Indigenous collaboration

Apr 6, 2021 | Environment News, Indigenous News

Indigenous people are often the first to feel the effects of climate change. From disruptions of traditional hunting and fishing routines to shortened ice-road seasons, the ecological crisis affects daily life in very concrete ways in Canada’s northern communities. Since housing is the largest consumer of energy, the Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE) Social Enterprise seeks to share innovative approaches both within Indigenous communities and with the community-housing sector as a whole.

No one is impervious to climate change, but some are more affected than others. For some residents of large Canadian cities, climate change may be far from their usual host of worries. The efficient infrastructure of our cities partly insulates the population the harsher realities—a privilege not afforded to many Indigenous people living on reserves or in rural and Northern communities.

From changes in animal habitat and patterns to forest fires, Indigenous communities experience the brute force of climate change daily.

“One of the clearer impacts for remote communities is the shortened ice road season,” says Ian Scholten, director at Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE) Social Enterprise, a non-profit promoting Indigenous inclusion in Canada’s energy economy.

“During the summer, these communities are fly-in only, but in the wintertime, the rivers and the lakes freeze over so they can drive materials and supplies up, and that really reduces the cost of a lot of the equipment and food supplies. These ice roads are critical pieces of infrastructure for a lot of these communities.”

High commodity prices are already a problem for remote Indigenous communities, impeding construction and fuelling existing housing shortages.

Intersection of housing and climate

“On reserves, the largest part of energy consumption is housing-related, it comes from people heating their homes,” says Stéphan Corriveau, executive director at the Community Housing Transformation Centre. “If you can generate energy more efficiently, through windmills, for example, part of the equation remains: how is your housing stock built, maintained, and managed? Are you as efficient as you need to be?”

Energy efficiency and housing are intersecting issues in the fight against climate change. The Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE) Social Enterprise and the Centre have recently joined forces in a partnership focussed on mutual promotion as well as knowledge, resources, and skill-sharing.

“Indigenous Clean Energy is focussed on supporting First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities,” Corriveau explains. “Through our partnership, we are providing them with the capacity to collaborate with urban, rural and northern non-profit housing providers. We are bridging the gap between these two worlds—that very much live apart—looking at what is being done on reserve, and outside, to see how they can collaborate and share skills, knowledge and experience.”

One of the Centre’s priorities is to reduce the environmental footprint of the community-housing sector. One way to do this is to implement new standards, methods, and approaches to reduce environmental stresses. The agreement helps the Centre bolster the organizational capacity of non-profit organizations throughout Canada via ICE’s energy-efficient initiatives.

This partnership also aligns with the Centre’s focus on Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and its efforts to engage and support Indigenous-led and managed housing providers and support their transformation agendas.

Indigenous collaboration

Rural and remote Indigenous communities are often on the front line of extreme weather and must adapt quickly to unpredictable climate change. That is why energy-efficient homes that are well insulated, virtually airtight and that use clean, sustainable energy are needed more than ever. And Scholten says collaboration is key.

“There are a lot of solutions already out there. There was a survey last year that found over 120 energy-efficient projects going on in communities across Canada. Each one has its different strengths, but when they all operate in their silos, we don’t get the shared learning and knowledge transfer that is so important to lifting each other up.

In fact, the idea for ICE was born when executive director Chris Henderson was working with Indigenous communities across Canada, helping them get renewable energy projects off the ground. Some community members were asking for help with their economic development plans, or jobs and training—areas outside of Henderson’s expertise. However, he knew of other Indigenous communities who had the desired knowledge. He began connecting them by word of mouth.

“That’s where the idea for the 20/20 Catalysts Program was born,” says Scholten.

The 20/20 Catalysts Program is a clean energy capacity-building program led by Indigenous leaders and clean-energy practitioners from across Canada. It provides training on renewable energy projects, energy efficiency and conservation, community energy planning and advanced energy systems.

“That was our founding program. We wanted to bring together all these Indigenous leaders and share their experience with other Indigenous communities,” adds Scholten.

Since then, ICE has introduced three other programs: the ICE Network, the Global Hub, and Bringing it Home, to fill the needs in knowledge sharing, mentorship, and collaboration nationwide, as well as abroad.

Bringing it Home

The Centre’s partnership with ICE under its Bringing it Home initiative focusses entirely on energy efficiency for new and retrofitted homes and facilities.

Although renewable energy projects have been around for a long time, energy efficiency does not benefit from time-proven, large-scale models just yet. Bringing it Home homes in at the community level on foundational pieces that need to be put in place for other investments, while tapping into funding and capacity to launch community-scale energy projects.

And the pieces of the puzzle only fit if there is collaboration.

“The primary goal for us at ICE is bringing Indigenous people together, because there is such power and knowledge and wisdom in Indigenous communities,” says Scholten.

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