Look ma, no pipelines! Indigenous power is coming from renewables 

Lately, Canada’s fossil fuel industry has been borrowing talking points directly from the US far right, calling out ‘woke activism’ for getting in the way of Indigenous prosperity. The message  is part of a sleazy marketing campaign that claims Indigenous Peoples are getting the short shrift,  not because government and industry regularly run roughshod over their rights but — get this — because First Nations are being cut out of their entitlement to the spoils of the tar sands due to Canada’s emissions caps. 

It’s just plain gross to see the language of our movement co-opted by Big Oil. Calling out Canada for failing Indigenous Peoples by not drilling for more oil and gas on their lands? Please. In fact, 70 percent of the tar sands are owned by American and Chinese companies. 

Among industry’s noisy claims is that, without fossil fuels, Canada would be ‘unlivable’. That might have surprised First Nations’ ancestors, who made it through here just fine for tens of thousands of years. 

In fact, what will, without a doubt, make this place — and everywhere — unlivable is unbridled fossil fuel expansion carried out for short term gains. To exploit the billions of barrels of oil in the tar sands is a one-way ticket to extinction. It’s why RAVEN — and our amazing community of donors — is standing behind Beaver Lake Cree Nation in their landmark Defend the Treaties  trial. 

That’s also why we were on our feet for the UBCIC, who this week compared Ottawa’s attempts to sell TMX to Indigenous investors to “economic smallpox”. 

Haven’t we figured it out by now? Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up. 

TMX faces a fiscal storm. Investors and insurers are running fast from a project riddled with delays and spending overruns in the tens of billions. And Canada wants to dump this white elephant on Indigenous people, and call it ‘reconciliation’.

Saddling Indigenous communities with stranded assets — on top of climate disaster and desecrated lands — is no way to set relationships right. 

According to the UBCIC, “The construction cost of TMX has increased dramatically due to delays, mismanagement, and cost overruns. Opposition remains fierce among many of the First Nations whose territories are crossed by TMX, due to concerns about a spill on salmon and other wildlife as well as concerns about the climate crisis that hit B.C. hard in 2021.” 

Canada already blows its Paris carbon budget through tar sands extraction alone: a full third of the fracked gas we produce is burned to extract bitumen trapped deep underground. On top of that, if we were to actually burn the fuel TMX is being built to carry, that alone would heat the planet nearly half a degree Celsius. 

The thing is: energy is energy. Fossil fuels are one way to generate it, but so are wind, solar, geothermal, and run-of-river projects. 

While government-owned TMX digs itself deeper and deeper into the hole, forward-thinking Indigenous Nations are actually getting on with building the next generation of power plants in their communities. With 197 projects in Indigenous communities generating power and selling excess energy back to the grid, First Nations are involved with generating thousands of megawatt hours of energy per year. 

Why? Because aside from meeting the goal of self-determination and self-reliance, there’s money in renewables. Lots of it.  

350.org founder Bill McKibben explains that “the new numbers turn the economic logic we’re used to upside down.” For instance, every time the number of solar panels manufactured doubles, the price drops another thirty per cent. The article goes on to show that price trajectories of fossil fuels and renewables are already crossing, with renewable energy now cheaper to produce than fossil fuel.

The Trudeau government has just made a commitment to pass a Just Transition package, in exchange for NDP support for the minority government through 2025.  Removing regulatory hurdles, passing legislation to fast-track development of renewables, and creating favourable lending structures for on-reserve power generation are genuine ways we could get out of the way of an Indigenous-led transition that is already gathering momentum. 

Now THAT’s what we call Indigenous power. 

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