Toward Inclusive Prosperity in Canada: Powering Indigenous Agency and Industry

Posted on Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Author: Kim Scott

Senior Associate, NVision Insight Group
Principal, Kishk Anaquot Health Research

Indigenous worldviews have more contemporary relevance than ever before.  If we need proof that humans are of the land, look only to the weave of watersheds through the muscles of the land from thirty thousand feet, the veins of a leaf, and then your own blood vessels or neural networks.

The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to it. That is the essential difference between Western and Indigenous worldviews that is at the heart of our climate crisis. The harsh realities of a worldview where we believe we own the land and resources are coming to a screeching halt. In popular discourse, it is known as climate change, in reality it is species survival.  Climates do change and species subsets on Earth along with them. 

But our economies are driven by a worldview of land ownership and our dependence on extractive industries, particularly the fossil fuel industry, is staggering. Reconciling this reality with Canadian commitments on climate is the challenge of our times.  While our desire to shift to renewable energy sources may be strong, our ability to shift will require thoughtful creativity. The International Energy Agency has consistently underestimated the uptake of renewable energy and the speed of the global transition. Distributed power production is increasing at a dizzying pace that calls into question most of the underlying assumptions about the longer-term value of transmission infrastructure. 

Energy decision-making in Canada is further complicated by the fact that energy policy is generated by various methods at disparate levels of government creating both significant policy incoherence and an unfair expectation for regulators to resolve policy dilemmas which wrongfully contaminates a regulatory function with a political one and compromises public confidence. 

As our energy decision making evolves, so too must our imagination about who can and should profit.  At no time in human history has there been a larger divide between the rich and the poor.  To achieve inclusive prosperity, Canada’s energy transition must move all of us away from centralized models of profit and gain toward distributed power generation and prosperity through community ownership. It has been clear in popular discourse over the past decade that no one is interested in replacing Big Oil with Big Hydro. Amplifying set-asides for community-owned power production eliminates NIMBYism and sets the foundation for the localization of other goods and services, most importantly, food production.  Community-owned power produces three times the benefits to local economies compared to absentee-owned systems.  For Indigenous renewable energy leaders in Canada models of energy governance are emerging to better respond to distributed power generation, greater energy democracy and enhanced energy security through a variety of non-governmental organizations and partnerships. The power of the sun, wind and water are liberating us from the confines of an import model to meet our needs for survival. Some Indigenous communities have over one billion dollars in renewable energy assets and zero unemployment as a result of their investments in community-owned power generation.

It is the business of governments to regulate markets and without widespread Canadian knowledge of the government subsidies for various energy sources and business models including distributed, community-owned renewable energy sources, Canadians might never know how quickly our governments could support more localized power production. Beyond relatively easy to track government subsidies, the costs of water and overland contamination resulting from spills as well as the human costs of airborne noxious substances and extreme weather events are not properly integrated. In short, the balance sheet is not being accurately calculated and our cost-benefit analysis of various energy sources and business models is poorly informed because of it.   

Similarly, the costs of relying upon an import model to meet all human needs for survival and cultural expression have also not been clearly estimated. If we only could account for the costs of importing all of the food, medicine, energy and expertise to service remote and isolated communities in Canada, investments in community-owned power would seem cheap by comparison.  If equity remains a tenet of Canadian nationalism, then remote and isolated communities who have had the least energy security historically must be the first recipients of Canadian investments in green infrastructure. Because energy is foundational to human development, we have an obligation to begin with nationwide set-asides for Indigenous community power ownership as a platform for economic and social reconciliation.   

At last, instead of exploring how Indigenous knowledge can be better integrated into energy decision making, Canada must discover more meaningful Indigenous representation in the energy decision-making process and recognize the inherent agency we have over all development in Canada as articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Treaties and our Constitution.  Greater representation of Indigenous worldviews and knowledge that support a relationship to the land would steer our development goals toward sustainability by advancing our rightful place in the natural world.  Because, ultimately, the Earth is not ours and does not need us. Rather we belong to the Earth.  With good stewardship and localized economies, the Earth can and will provide for all of our human needs for survival and cultural expression.    

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