Feds fund SevenGen Indigenous youth energy summit, mentorship program

·3 min read

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has invested $442,600 in a summit aimed at Indigenous youth building a sustainable, equitable energy future.

The funding was used to support an Indigenous youth energy summit run by SevenGen, an Indigenous youth council, as well as a mentorship program.

"Indigenous people in Canada hold vast amounts of knowledge that is beneficial to both Canada and the world for implementing climate solutions. Indigenous youth need opportunities, training and connections to the land that will help them be the leaders we need to deliver a sustainable future,” Danielle Kehler, SevenGen manager, said in a press release.

Recently, the Indigenous Youth Energy Summit brought together Indigenous youth from across Turtle Island from Sept. 8 to 11, allowing them to gather and share knowledge around energy, policies and perspective on energy issues and corporate malpractices, says Nathan Kaye, co-chair and operation lead of SevenGen.

SevenGen’s name pays homage to a Lakota prophecy that says the seventh generation following European contact will lead change in a collapsing civilization. It’s a prophecy that enshrines Indigenous knowledge and leadership in a vision of sustainable change and peace.

Indigenous youth today are the seventh generation and are faced with climate and energy crises, particularly impacting First Nations communities.

For example, an energy bill for a First Nations family in Manitoba was as high as $1,000, “and these people had to drive over this power station just to get off the reserve,” Kaye says.

“We’re creating a space for them to connect and discuss things that are going on in their communities, solutions that they are seeing, and bringing it to light for us.”

The summit saw participants travel from as far north as Paulatuk in the Northwest Territories, as far east as Eskasoni in Nova Scotia, as far west as Haida Gwaii in British Columbia and as far south as Puerto Rico, he adds.

It also gives young First Nations peoples the opportunity to experience other nations’ cultures. For example, Kaye sat with some Dene youth at the summit who usually never get to see powwow dancers, but were able to at the summit during the grand entry.

Funding will help SevenGen’s summits remain “barrier-free,” Kaye says. In other words, the more than 200 participants who joined SevenGen 2022 had their travel, food and accommodations covered.

The first SevenGen summit was held in 2019, but COVID delays rescheduled the second until 2022. A virtual event wouldn’t suffice in bringing Indigenous youth together in the same way, Kaye says.

To compensate for the missed summits, SevenGen launched the imaGENation program in partnership with Indigenous Clean Energy, a Canada-wide not-for-profit that promotes Indigenous inclusion in Canada’s clean energy future, according to its website. Support for that program is included in the funding announced by Wilkinson.

ImaGENation selects 12 teams of Indigenous youth from across Canada to implement a clean energy project. The teams receive both mentorship and funding to support their projects, which include off-grid solar and wind power, cultural land camps, community greenhouses and a solar-powered food truck serving organic and local Indigenous products. “We were surprised how ambitious the youth cohort was,” Kaye says. “It was a program no one ever knew was needed.”

It was so needed that the initial funding for the program jumped from $10,000 to $30,000.

One project Kaye mentions is the imakGen, a non-mechanical, water-powered electric generator for use in salinated ocean water. The project will explore new ways to deliver electricity to remote and coastal communities, according to the imaGENation website.

For the SevenGen summit, kinship is essential, Kaye says.

“People left inspired, motivated and left with a feeling of kinship,” he says.

“[They] had that sense of family, so they know there’s people doing the work. It’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s heart work, work from the heart. We left people inspired and that was the mission.”

Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer