By Sherry Wasilow
Indigenous engagement in energy planning and development can be a very contentious issue. To address this challenge, the Positive Energy (PE) project, an initiative of the Collaboratory on Energy Research and Policy (CERP), held a workshop on this topic on November 30, 2015. CERP is part of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP).
The workshop brought together leaders from Indigenous organizations, government, industry, and academia to discuss challenges and opportunities for Indigenous involvement in energy development, and to identify research priorities and collaborations.
Lawrence Keyte, a Research Associate with PE, played a leading role in organizing the workshop.
“Historically in Canada, energy development involving Indigenous lands has been dominated by developer‐driven objectives,” he said. “The process has been marked by inadequate engagement with local communities, resulting in benefits typically flowing elsewhere, as opposed to remaining in the territory where the development occurred. Indigenous populations have frequently experienced long-term negative consequences, including environmental degradation and loss of land, while deriving few benefits beyond short‐term jobs. Sadly, constructive, respectful and mutually beneficial energy relationships – rather than being the norm – have been isolated cases.”
Keyte is a specialist in energy issues affecting Arctic communities and has a strong interest in the links between community involvement and successful implementation of sustainable energy projects and policy.
“I believe in clean and sustainable energy projects that are embraced by residents, enhance local capacity and health, keep energy dollars local, and bring long-term social, economic and environmental benefits to northern and Indigenous communities,” he said.
The workshop featured frank conversations between representatives from across Canada on several issues. They reached consensus on three hot topics: the need to put together a “tool box” of helpful steps for overcoming barriers to community involvement in energy, so that this information can be widely disseminated to many communities; general support for “free, prior and informed consent” – the principle that a community has the right to give or withhold consent for proposed projects that may affect its land; and, finally, that Indigenous ownership of local energy projects and true partnerships with equity positions can increase social and economic benefits while enhancing community autonomy.
“This workshop provides an excellent illustration of the important role the University of Ottawa can play in convening positive dialogue between energy leaders on salient – and often contentious – energy policy topics. The desire of workshop participants to continue the dialogue and to collaborate with Positive Energy on research is very heartening to see,” said Professor Monica Gattinger, Chair of the PE project and Director of the ISSP.