By Rebecca Chartrand
Whether it’s starting up a solar energy company or starting a boreal forest herbal production business, Indigenous values and oral traditions continue to impact the way Indigenous Peoples do business.
From coast-to-coast-to-coast, Indigenous world views have a common thread that can be understood visually through a web of life where human beings are but a strand on the web. Such teachings illuminate the importance of maintaining a culture of care for all life. Protesting efforts to stop fracking and the pillaging of other natural resources has put Indigenous Peoples in the spotlight time and time again as stewards and protectors of the lands and waters.
This leadership is critical as Canada aspires to achieve its domestic and international biodiversity goals, including conserving at least 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and oceans by the end of 2025, and creating healthier habitats for species at risk.
It will be interesting to see how the Government of Canada partners with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to establish protected areas with Indigenous leadership, especially when the lands set aside for Indians is what Phil Fontaine, former National Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nation, calls “Ishkonigan”, an Ojibwe word that means leftover lands—lands that nobody else wanted when Canada was emerging as a new country.
Some of these lands are remote, isolated and fly-in communities in northern rural areas, making it difficult to participate in mainstream economies. Despite having limited opportunities, we continue to see Indigenous Peoples across Canada creating new environmentally-friendly businesses. Kisik Clean Energy is one of these businesses. Owned by Darrell Brown, Kisik Clean Energy focuses on working with energy industry leaders and Indigenous communities in the areas of solar and wind energy. Kisik is currently working with the Sayisi Dene First Nation (SDFN), a community that has long relied on diesel to power their homes, schools, public buildings and workplaces. Diesel is considered a dirty fuel with potentially serious health effects on those exposed to its exhaust. Offsetting diesel reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which will help Canada achieve its goal of becoming net zero by 2050.
While some progress has been made to help communities shift from diesel to other forms of energy, just under half of the First Nations, Inuit, Métis and remote northern communities still rely on diesel. The sun will soon deliver the Sayisi Dene community’s power, and the diesel generators can be switched off to reduce the diesel used per year. This project is not only providing education on the benefits of solar energy and helping the community members become clean energy champions, but it is also creating jobs by training local members.
Another company working hard to reduce its carbon footprint is Boreal Heartland Herbal Products Inc., an Indigenous-owned and -operated business based in Air Ronge, Saskatchewan. This business grew from the Keewatin Community Development Association, which aims to advance Indigenous education and employment outcomes.
This project is passing traditional harvesting practices onto community members, including young people. Currently, 90 per cent of their harvesters are Indigenous. The beauty of this enterprise is the restoration of cultural practices, and the passing on of knowledge and teachings. The result is the creation of four flagship teas that are blending traditional harvest techniques with modern practices to create healthful and flavorful teas. Their website outlines a commitment to sustainability, including respect for the boreal ecosystem that has been supporting life within the boreal forests for about 8,000 years.
Despite Indigenous Peoples in Canada having disproportionately small, fragmented land bases far from urban centres, with limited commercial and residential use, natural resources or abilities to expand, we continue to find innovative ways to live off the land while creating economic opportunity.
Rebecca Chartrand, the CEO of Indigenous Strategy Alliance, is an Anishinaabe First Nations woman from Treaty 4 territory in Manitoba with over 25 years of experience in K-12 and post-secondary education, including the arts. She has a strong sense of pride in her identity and is highly respected for her courage, integrity, voice and vision. Chartrand’s work focuses on bridging diverse communities through reconciliation, anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and Indigenous and multicultural education frameworks. She leverages Indigenous ways of teaching, learning and leading to bring a holistic perspective to her leadership style and purpose-driven initiatives.