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Indigenous-Led Clean Energy: Advancing Canada’s Sustainable Future

Written by Rudi van den Broek, VP of Partnerships, Northern Energy Capital

Published December 11, 2023



In my capacity as the Vice President of Partnerships of Northern Energy Capital, a renewable energy company deeply committed to empowering Indigenous communities, I am steadfast in my advocacy for Indigenous energy development and ownership. If Canada is to achieve its climate action goals, it must empower Indigenous peoples with investment, policy and financing. These actions are crucial not only for propelling Canada’s transition towards a sustainable future but also for achieving the goals of Reconciliation through the elevated well-being and opportunities for Indigenous communities and peoples. 


The Importance of Indigenous-Led Clean Energy

Global events such as the war in the Ukraine and tensions in the Far East strongly suggest that North America and Canada, in particular, re-shore our energy and critical minerals. Domestic supply of key inputs to modern life is integral to our prosperity. As the original inhabitants and stewards of Canada, Indigenous communities must be central to the development of our natural resources such as energy. 


In our ever-evolving world, the critical intersection of Indigenous empowerment and renewable energy stands as a beacon of hope. Indigenous communities hold immense potential to be leaders in the transition to a sustainable future powered by clean energy sources.


Recognizing this, I propose that governments of all levels take positive actions to further empower these communities and support Indigenous-led clean energy initiatives. These actions can be implemented immediately and, together, they can provide services to Indigenous organizations to guide our transition to a high-energy, carbon-free future.  


PHOTO: CIRA/.CA via TheFutureEconomy.ca


How to Support the Growth of Indigenous-Led Clean Energy

1. Initiate Projects using a Collaborative Governance Model:

Governments must establish collaborative governance models with Indigenous organizations in decision-making processes regarding renewable energy projects. This ensures that their perspectives, values, and interests are fully considered. With true collaboration as the first step, the most feasible and strongest renewable energy projects will reach fruition and they will do so much more quickly than is currently the case. 


2. Access to Education:

Immediately set aside and implement funding for new education and training programs that equip Indigenous youth with the skills and knowledge needed to engage in renewable energy initiatives, creating a new generation of empowered leaders. Funding such programs will remove barriers, increase access to training and capacity-building, and will create the basis for more informed decision-making and fulfilling participation. 


3. Local Capacity Building:

Empower Indigenous communities by providing support so they can increase their capacity to plan, develop, operate, and maintain renewable energy systems independently, fostering self-reliance. This action is focused on the existing citizens of Indigenous communities with a clear objective of creating the experts, skilled workforce and project managers required for the needed network of accelerated projects. 


4. Inclusive Employment Opportunities:

Indigenous-led clean energy projects will naturally foster inclusive employment opportunities and, by building on capacity building and training, Indigenous youth will be able to be leaders in the workforce. The current system incentivizes local and Indigenous employment but must be strengthened with the educational and capacity-building actions noted earlier. Local employment will increase buy-in and improve economies. 


5. Grants for Indigenous-Led Clean Energy Projects:

Governments must offer financial support and grants specifically tailored to Indigenous communities to kickstart renewable energy projects, enabling them to gain ownership and control over their energy resources. While there are many grant programs in place, widespread and rapid identification and advancement of renewable energy projects can be accelerated. For instance, much of Canada’s north country has significant solar and wind resources that can be harnessed by leveraging and amplifying models, technologies, and project plans that have already been approved.  


6. Technology Transfer:

Facilitate technology transfer initiatives that allow Indigenous communities to access, adopt, and adapt renewable energy technologies suitable for their unique needs and environments. Specifically, have a small group document the lessons learned, technology stacks, and infrastructure requirements of all renewable projects implemented in the last five years and make that information and those specifications available, for free, via a centralized knowledge repository. Where possible, establish vendors of record and pre-negotiated access to technologies known to be superior. 


7. Create Renewable Energy Cooperatives:

Support the establishment of renewable energy cooperatives within Indigenous communities, allowing them to collectively manage energy production and distribution. Some communities would welcome the opportunity to join a cooperative. Provide simple models, agreements, and case studies of successful cooperatives from other Indigenous communities to kick-start the process. 


8. Capital Funding for Green Entrepreneurship and Indigenous-Led Clean Energy Projects:

Encourage Indigenous entrepreneurship in renewable energy by providing access to resources, mentorship, and funding for community-driven clean energy startups. One simple method would be to leverage the existing financing infrastructure across Canada. A fund that provides quick access to risk capital would accelerate the process for entrepreneurs to validate their business ideas. Understanding that only a portfolio approach would work and accepting that while many new companies will flourish, others will not, is the key to success. Rapid iteration of new ideas, thereby identifying the winners and learning lessons from those ideas that did not work out, is critical for accelerating new entrepreneurial growth.


9. Establish Simplified Environmental Impact Assessments:

Mandate thorough, but simple and rapid, environmental impact assessments for renewable energy projects brought forward with Indigenous ownership that incorporate traditional knowledge, within a predictable framework. Where possible, provide pathways using best practices and lessons learned from other projects to streamline the process. Consider broadly addressing key, widespread concerns such as caribou populations, permafrost, and migrating birds in a central manner, and provide those findings to all projects. 


10. Renewable Energy Research Centers:

Establish research centers within or in partnership with Indigenous communities to develop innovative renewable energy solutions tailored to their specific environments. These should be integrated into the existing educational and post-secondary centres that are also focussed on Indigenous communities to ensure that the educational, vocational, research, and industrial aspects of renewable energy projects are integrated. Connecting all of Canada’s renewable energy research centres into an association with a supported mandate to meet at least quarterly and disseminate knowledge will also improve project quality and delivery. 


11. Data-Driven Decision-Making:

Leverage data and analytics to continuously monitor the impact of renewable energy projects on Indigenous communities, allowing for informed adjustments and improvements. This data-first approach is best integrated into existing networks (such as the ICE Network) as well as renewable energy research centres. 



It’s Time to Advance an Indigenous-Led Clean Energy Future

The time for resolute action is now. To secure a sustainable future for Canada, we must not only prioritize Indigenous energy as a driving force in the transition to clean energy but also champion responsible critical minerals sourcing. Through the empowerment of Indigenous communities, investments in sustainable infrastructure, and collaboration, we can lay the foundation for a prosperous and inclusive economy while safeguarding the environment for future generations.


I issue an earnest call to all stakeholders to act decisively and seize this transformative opportunity. Together, let us forge a brighter, greener, and more equitable future for our nation and the world.


Click here for the Future Economy Op-Ed




About Northern Energy Capital (NEC)

Northern Energy Capital is a renewable energy development company, established in 2015, dedicated to empowering northern and remote communities in their transition from fossil fuel consumption to clean energy asset ownership. NEC is the development partner of choice for off-grid and remote communities that seek to achieve energy independence through locally owned and locally produced renewable energy.


Are you interested in working with Northern Energy Capital on your next renewable energy project? We would love to hear from you! Contact us at contact@northernenergycapital.com or 250-213-8185 to learn more about how we can help you achieve your energy goals.

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