Five Indigenous-led initiatives, each of which will support renewable energy or help communities reach energy security, have been given boosts by the federal government.
Canada's Minister of Natural Resources John Wilkinson announced Monday that $10 million would be dedicated to five projects in Saskatchewan.
Among those to benefit are the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, Mee-Toos Forest Products of the Peter Ballantyne Group of Companies, the First Nations Power Authority of Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan.
Mee-Toos Forest Products will receive $2 million to replace heating systems at two schools, one in Pelican Narrows and one in Deschambault Lake, reducing fossil fuel usage in those buildings by roughly 90 per cent, a news release from the federal government said.
The First Nations Power Authority of Saskatchewan is to receive $975,000 for a project focused on community energy planning in Indigenous communities that aren't currently supplied with natural gas from SaskEnergy. On its website, the authority described a community energy plan as a document used to plan communities, fund proposals and develop renewable energy projects.
"Our communities struggle on a daily basis with energy security and this impacts access, fair, reasonable access, costs, reliability for our communities," Gary Merasty, who spoke on behalf of Peter Ballantyne Group of Companies, said Monday.
"This has huge and broad impacts. It has impacts on home heating, it has impacts on traditional pursuits.… it has a huge impact on the cost of life on a daily basis."
Merasty said a high cost of energy can compound social and economic issues impacting quality of life in communities.
Too often, he said, communities face barriers in lowering the costs of energy due to their remote locations and smaller population sizes, or the "jurisdictional chaos" created by the various levels of government having different responsibilities to First Nations people.
Initiatives like the five supported by this federal funding, he said, will "change the tide on a daily basis" and allow First Nation communities to better engage with Canada's economy.
The First Nations Power Authority's website said it was working with Onion Lake and Southend to develop community energy plans.
The Meadow Lake Tribal Council is to receive money for two projects: more than $4.3 million to build capacity and develop a regional approach to renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation; and more than $1.6 million to build an 816-kilowatt solar farm in the regional municipality of Tecumsah in Saskatchewan's southeast.
The solar project, overseen by Meadow Lake Tribal Council Solar Energy, will be 100 per cent owned by the nine First Nations communities in the tribal council. The facility was touted as a stepping stone for communities to develop their own renewable energy projects.
Tribal Chief Richard Ben said the additional money will help communities in that tribal council become energy leaders.
"It's really good for us, especially to be a part of the economy," Ben said after the event at the First Nations University on Monday afternoon.
"For many years, in the past, we never really had a good chance to be a part of the economy, especially something so geared toward our heart like protecting Mother Earth."
Some $840,000 will be given to the University of Saskatchewan to create a new master's degree program designed to meet the needs of Indigenous, remote and northern communities through distance education, in hopes of fostering sustainable community energy development.
Minister Wilkinson said Monday's announcement showed how Indigenous communities are going to play an active role in resource transitions to renewable energies of the future.
"There's opportunities for enormous numbers of jobs, for procurement opportunities for Indigenous businesses, but also to participate in an equity basis on long-term benefits that will flow to Indigenous communities," he said.
"They can help us to accelerate the work that needs to be done, but they can also benefit in a way where, traditionally, they have not benefited from the kinds of developments we have undertaken."