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A Q&A with Indigenous Clean Energy’s Terri Lynn Morrison

“Just knowing that Indigenous communities are the second-largest asset owners of clean energy aside from utilities and government is very significant and something that we don’t talk about enough.”

 

Terri Lynn Morrison is the director of strategic partnerships and communications at Indigenous Clean Energy, a pan-Canadian not-for-profit platform that advances Indigenous inclusion in Canada’s energy economy through Indigenous leadership and broad-based collaboration with energy companies, utilities, governments, development firms, cleantech innovators, the academic sector, and capital markets. Indigenous Clean Energy is hosting a virtual e-gathering that will begin on Monday January 18, 2021. View the program and sign up here

How did you come to work at Indigenous Clean Energy?

I started at Indigenous Clean Energy as a mentor, although my career began working for three Mi’gmaq communities in the Gaspé region in Quebec. One of my jobs was as the project director of the Mesgi’g Ugju’s’n wind farm, which is a 150-megawatt wind farm owned and developed by the three Mi’gmaq communities and renewable energy developer Innergex. 

Before we took on the project, there were 1,600 megawatts of development in our traditional territory but only two Mi’gmaq people working in the industry—a flag person and an electrician. By the end of our project, there were 116. 

We knew we wanted our people to be involved and have a sense of connection and ownership that is so important to social acceptability. So, in parallel to negotiating the contract, we also developed a training program. It was great to see how that energy from the project translated into the communities and the excitement it brought. 

While working on the project, I realized that clean energy was what excited me, and I ended up making the move full time to Indigenous Clean Energy.

In many ways, my story is an example of what Indigenous Clean Energy, as an organization, can do. We’re practicing what we preach—we’re elevating people so they are able to go out and do the work to bring the benefits of clean energy into their communities.

What work does Indigenous Clean Energy do to advance Indigenous participation in Canada’s clean energy sector?

We are always working to build partnerships, whether it’s with companies, developers, utilities, or government, be it federal, provincial, or territorial. A big part of this is information sharing—it helps us stay ahead of the game. So we built the Indigenous Clean Energy Network, which is like Facebook for clean energy and has over 1,200 members who offer support and insight from across the country. 

The 20/20 Catalyst Program. Image: ICE

Another big aspect of our work is the 20/20 Catalyst Program. We run a three-month capacity building program for First Nation, Inuit, and Métis clean energy champions from across Canada. The participants are introduced to the nuts and bolts of community clean energy planning as well as project development, financing, implementation, and maintenance. And we don’t just focus on renewable energy projects but the whole clean energy spectrum, whether it’s infrastructure, electric vehicles, or energy efficiency in housing or community buildings. 

The program is delivered by Indigenous mentors, like myself, who have project experience in the community, so we’re able to provide a real grassroots perspective. As First Nation, Inuit, and Métis members, our experience is different from others in the clean energy sector, and we share the same sentiments and challenges.

The thing I find most beautiful about the Catalyst Program is how the participants become family—they’re so supportive of each other. As an Indigenous person, I think this good news story isn’t shared enough. We often see the challenges faced by Indigenous people in Canada and not so much the successes. Just knowing that Indigenous communities are the second-largest asset owners of clean energy aside from utilities and government is very significant and something that we don’t talk about enough.

What opportunities does clean energy offer for Indigenous communities, and why is it important to support it?

Clean energy is very much in line with our values as Indigenous people. We’re here as caretakers of the land and to ensure the sustainability of resources for the next seven generations. 

It’s also about making sure that new developments are done in the right way. When a developer comes into a territory, involving the Indigenous owners of that territory just makes good business sense. On the environmental side, it will make a better project as you’ll have an understanding of the land that you’re working on from the people who live there. On the social side, it’s important to provide training so the local communities can not only build the projects but operate them in the long term. As well as providing jobs, it can also generate revenue that can be used to fund programs and services needed by the community.

What more needs to be done to support new and existing Indigenous-led clean energy projects?

Some of the Indigenous Clean Energy team. Image: ICE

I think we all have a role to play regardless of whether we are coming from a government, industry, or Indigenous perspective. We all need to take the time to create relationships. I feel, at times, we don’t know how to connect with each other—and providing space for Indigenous perspectives is really important.

We are used to seeing Indigenous people as protectors of the land, often drawing a really hard line. But if you take a step back and really understand why, you see the human perspective. It’s not “mine” versus “yours.” It’s about finding ways to share the space so it’s good for both the people living there and the developer coming into it.

Ultimately, the reality is that we also need to have financing available to unlock these opportunities. It is critical if we’re going to advance meaningful Indigenous participation.

Your e-gathering is next week. Can you explain what it is?

It is the only event of its kind in the country, where First Nation, Inuit, and Métis clean energy champions come together with industry, government, and community leaders to share their experiences and also learn about what’s coming. It’s a week-long virtual gathering and will include—among other exciting events—an announcement from the minister of natural resources about the Indigenous Off-diesel Initiative that highlights some of the success our Catalysts and their communities have had at reducing reliance on diesel.

Indigenous Clean Energy’s virtual e-gathering will begin on Monday January 18, 2021— you can view the program and sign up here

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