Energy transition key to economic reconciliation for Canadian indigenous communities

Rating: High school and post-secondary

Summary: Markham interviews Katarina Savic of the Canadian Aboriginal Business Association about her Smart Prosperity Institute blog post, “Post-COVID-19 Indigenous Economic Recovery – Reconciliation in the Energy Transition,” co-authored with Prof. Christina Hoicka of York University.

Related links:

  1. Post-COVID-19 Indigenous Economic Recovery – Reconciliation in the Energy Transition.
  2. Role of renewable energy for economic development in indigenous communities – video interview with Dr. Christina Hoicka
  3. Fixing BC gas pipeline dispute requires new approach to indigenous governments by Ottawa, provinces – video interview with lawyer Robert Janes
  4. Whose rule of law? Indigenous law part of Canadian legal system, says lawyer – video interview with Kate Gunn from First Peoples Law firm

Markham Hislop: I’m going to be talking to Katarina Savic who’s researcher for the Canadian council for Aboriginal business and a coauthor of a new study called post COVID-19 indigenous economic recovery reconciliation in the energy transition. So basically the argument is that greater indigenous ownership in Canada of renewable energy projects after the pandemic’s over can contribute to indigenous reconciliation self-determination and economic recovery. So welcome to the interview. Katrina,

Katarina Savic: Thank you so much. Happy to be here.

Markham Hislop: So greater control by indigenous first nations communities in Canada. You listed in the paper with your coauthor some of the benefits, one of them is right and title to land. Could you explain why that’s important please?

Katarina Savic: Yes, for sure. And I think before I should do that, I should acknowledge the land that I’m coming in from, in good fashion. So I’m calling from Toronto Ontario, and that is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe Bay. The [inaudible] the Herowinda, Chippewas and Mississaugas of the credit. I’m born and raised in Toronto, but my parents are immigrants to this country. So I’m just want to give thanks and appreciation that I can be here, live here on their land.

And so with renewable energy and the rights entitled to their land, so the government of Canada, they have the duty to consult and accommodate with all kind of projects or developments on indigenous territories. And this would include affect first nations and their communities. And so with that duty to consult there comes acknowledgement that indigenous people and first nations are rights holders to their land. And that means they have to be consulted with in the beginning of any project, any planning, and that they are real partners in all kinds of projects, developments on their land. And and that responsibility has also been now downloaded onto the private sector.

So private sector, private developers that want to develop any kind of projects. They need to follow that and engage with first nations early on in any project and consider them as, you know, viable partners, equity partners in all projects.

Markham Hislop: Now, the second benefit that you listed in the study is the importance of own source revenue. Tell us a little bit about that, please.

Katarina Savic: Yeah, sure. So maybe I’ll just back up a bit. So for our research to explore how renewable energy can connect with and contribute to reconciliation self-determination we looked at data sets of 157 active, renewable energy projects with grid connected first nations. And then we interviewed a few first nations EDCs from across different provinces and territories.

So what are EDCs? Those are economic development corporations that is the economic branch of a first nation. And they are for-profit business entities and their purpose is job and wealth creation for the community. And so that’s where own source revenue comes in because with government of Canada, has a fiduciary to provide funds every year to first nations to support their functions and community services. And so on that annual transfer of funds, that’s earmarked by the government. They’re told how to spend that money.

There’s immense burdensome reporting every single year, and that’s where own source revenue comes in, where the first nations in their EDCs, they’re seeking business opportunities partnerships where they can make their own money and decide for themselves how they want to spend or reinvest their profits.

And that’s so closely tied from what we heard to self-determination being able to control their lives and their land and their money.

Markham Hislop: Now the third benefit is one that I find very interesting. We don’t talk about this a lot and that’s the importance of community and nation capacity building. So if you’re going to do projects like this, theres a tremendous amount of expertise that’s required. You need to be able to manage the project. You have to have the technical skills, you have to have the financial skills. These are not, these are not insignificant projects and taking them on builds the capacity to do all of that within the nation. Have I got that right?

Katarina Savic: Definitely. And so for partnerships, there’s many different benefits to them, but definitely one of them is capacity building for the first nation, but also for the non-indigenous entity as well.

So for example, for maybe a large-scale hydro where they’re collaborating, partnering with a local first nation oftentimes there would be maybe the chief or counselor or someone else on the board of directors or involved in day-to-day operations, as well as making sure that their youth and community members are employed in that project.

So really throughout all, you know, all different levels we want to make sure that there’s first nations decision-making authority which again builds their experience and their expertise in renewable energy projects. And hopefully more and more, we can see more and more a hundred percent first nations owned, renewable energy projects,

Markham Hislop: Right? And of course this is important because many first nations that are located in remote areas that are not part, you know, it’s not easy to develop these kinds of projects or to participate in other local in the local economy. So it’s very important to have that capacity to do local development.

So let’s talk about the economic development corporations. In your study you argue that 50/50 joint ventures with private sector companies is the best model. Can you explain why that is?

Katarina Savic: Yeah, sure. Well it’s maybe not the best model, but it’s a good model for certain reasons. And maybe I should preface there’s three kinds of scenarios for indigenous ownership and participation in renewable energy projects.

The first scenario is if you know, the project is not owned at all by a indigenous company. And instead the indigenous community is, has an IBA impact benefit agreement or an MOU, and they receive some benefits. That’s scenario we don’t really, you know, like and then on the other side of the spectrum is when a first nation wholly owns their renewable energy projects, which we see many across Canada.

And in the middle of that, between the two scenarios would be partnerships and joint, usually between first nations And non-indigenous. Sometimes between indigenous indigenous partnerships, but usually it’s between a first nation and a non-indigenous business or government.

And what we heard from the interviews was that those partnerships and joint ventures, it really embraces the true intent of the treaties, which was to share the resources and land between the nation for indigenous nations and settlers.

And that really embodies reconciliation, is moving forward, rebuilding the broken nations nation relationships and renewable energy can definitely play a part in that.

Markham Hislop: So I understand the partnership between the private sector and first nations, but what about bill partnerships with government? What does that look like?

Katarina Savic: Yeah, I mean, similarly with even the private sector we need Hydro-Quebec, BC hydro, hydro one for any kind of new projects are being developed. Definitely having to include indigenous communities, First nations from the very beginning. And at first nations are looking to be equity partners in that project. That option definitely has to be in the table from what we heard from the interviews is that again, first nations and their EDCs, they’re not looking for IBA’s anymore. They want to have ownership and control over these projects and decision-making authority. And that comes with equity partnerships, whether it’s public sector with indigenous communities or private sector and indigenous communities.

Markham Hislop: I want to interject an important point here because quite often the capital for renewable energy projects doesn’t come from the government. Some of it may, and that does happen, but more and more as I understand it, first nations are able to go to investors. They’re able to go to banks, they’re able to raise bonds, you know, to participate. They can finance their own participation. They’re not dependent upon government to finance it for them. Is that an accurate observation?

Katarina Savic: Definitely. You should know, first nations EDCs, they’re really big players across the country at CCAB, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. We see more EDCs being established every year. They’re growing they exist in every single industry sector. They’re really growing every single year and they have the equity. They do have the capital to participate.

Yes, there is still the barrier to accessing financing, especially for businesses located on reserve. But there are ways to overcome that, but yes, first nations and the EDCs, they’re definitely valid players and are looking for equity partnerships. They have the funds to support that.

Markham Hislop: Now you mentioned something, you’ve mentioned it a couple of times during this interview and I have certainly heard it with indigenous leaders in other interviews. And that is that first nations don’t feel respected when they sit down at the negotiating table with the private sector partners, with government and their message to those other partners is very simple. Do not treat us as an afterthought. We want to be in the process from the very beginning, treat us like partners. And from the beginning, we will be very good partners, but if you come and treat us an afterthought at the end, just to fulfill your consultation duties, that’s when problems arise. Is that fair?

Katarina Savic: Yes, definitely. We heard interviews and also with from our business members at CCAV is that of course first nations, they want to be equity partners. And I think sometimes with these challenges with maybe their meetings with public or private sector, as it relates to renewable energy I think that some folks have an idea that first nations are anti-development and that they’re a barrier to business and all of these kinds of negative ideas. And it’s simply not true.

First nations and their EDCs are looking for business opportunities that make sense for them to address their community needs that respects their rights, their land and waters, and also to think about the next seven generations.

So we don’t have to compromise the two and you’re right. They want to be included in the beginning. Not only does that fulfill the duty to consult and accommodate, but that’s because that shows the first nations that they’re respected as the rights holders to their land and respect it as real business partners that can bring a lot to the table.

Markham Hislop: So let’s talk about the final question Katarina, which is the role of federal and provincial governments with respect to first nations and EDCs around renewable energy. Do we have the right policies or do, are there improvements that are required?

Katarina Savic: Yes, we’ve had some and then we’ve had some gone away and there’s more work to be done. From, in our research, we showed was after the Supreme court of Canada decision for the duty to consult and accommodate after the Ontario feed in tariff program, the BC clean energy act, we saw a real rise of indigenous ownership and participation in renewable energy projects.

We didn’t have the time to really explore the analysis in depth, but there is a trend to show that yes, supportive provincial and federal policies are instrumental to the success of large indigenous owned renewable energy projects.

So in Ontario, we had the feed in tariff program with Aboriginal price adder, and we saw a boom of great indigenous partnerships and wholly indigenous owned, renewable energy projects. The first a hundred percent wind farm indigenous owned was an Ontario because of that Aboriginal price adder.

So definitely in a spirit of economic reconciliation, I really encourage all provincial and federal policies to think about ways to stimulate more indigenous ownership in renewable energy projects. Not only does it contribute to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, but it contributes to the government’s role in economic reconciliation with first nations.

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