Indigenous Communities

The Canadian electricity industry is committed to advancing transparent communication, meaningful engagement, and economic reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Overview

Canada’s Indigenous Peoples have endured hardships and marginalization since colonization from systemic racism and discrimination, to lack of access to affordable housing and clean energy. However, we all have a responsibility to act, and act now to work toward genuine reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. It is important to keep in mind that reconciliation is a journey that requires a multitude of “actions” by individuals, companies, governments, and legal institutions. These actions can range from addressing cultural competencies at the individual level, to large-scale government measures such as acknowledging past injustices against Indigenous Peoples, negotiating modern treaties and land claim agreements, enabling self-determination, and facilitating Indigenous self-government. These are inherently complex issues, but we have a responsibility to take meaningful action.

History

Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples has continued to evolve since Confederation. While the Indian Act remains one of the most wide-ranging federal statutes governing Indigenous issues, Canada has a unique relationship with Indigenous Peoples based on constitutionally protected rights, which were recognized and affirmed under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. While the Constitution did not define these rights, legal jurisprudence both prior to, and after, the repatriation of the Constitution has clarified the scope of Indigenous and treaty rights and title in cases such as Calder et al. v. B.C. Attorney General (1973) and R. v. Sparrow (1990). While legal jurisprudence related to Indigenous and treaty rights continue to evolve, there is still much to be done to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) have suggested several ways to pursue genuine reconciliation since the 1990s. In 2015, the TRC called upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Indigenous Peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation, which would also adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as the framework for reconciliation. After nearly six years since the TRC Calls to Action, the federal government enacted Bill C-15 in 2021 to implement UNDRIP, which is similar to the legislation adopted in 2019 by the Government of British Columbia.

Key Messages

  • Unlike in the past, electricity industry workers today are much more culturally competent; understand the cornerstones of Indigenous rights and titles, appreciate the connection of Indigenous Peoples to their land, and most importantly, respect Indigenous world views, especially their Seven Generation approach to decision-making.
  • The industry’s commitment to learning and respecting Indigenous world views have led to a range of mutually beneficial electricity industry initiatives, including meaningful early consultations with local Indigenous communities, joint business ventures and equity partnerships, access to employment, education, and training opportunities, supply chain procurement and contracts, and intercultural competency training for management and staff, among others.
  • Many of these initiatives are also listed in Electricity Canada's 2020 compendium of member Indigenous engagement initiatives, “Taking Action: Collaborating with Indigenous Communities”.
  • The future of the industry’s relationship with Indigenous communities looks bright. According to the report “Accelerating Transition” by Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE), there are nearly 2500 Indigenous-affiliated clean energy projects in operation or planning stages, including 197 medium-to-large renewable generation projects. These projects represent another potential pathway for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
  • The Conference Board of Canada has also estimated the electricity industry will need to invest roughly $1.7 trillion by 2050 to ensure a resilient, low carbon energy future. This unprecedented investment the industry must undertake represents a tremendous opportunity for Indigenous communities.
  • Industry and Indigenous communities also need sustained support from all levels of governments, including clear and unambiguous expectations around Indigenous consultation and engagement on major projects.
  • The federal statute to implement UNDRIP is laudable, but it fails to provide appropriate “interpretive” guidance on many key issues, including consultation requirements, which could potentially have detrimental effects on Canada’s reconciliation journey.
  • The electricity industry needs provincial governments and their energy regulators to allow companies to expand to northern and remote areas despite the cost. This is important because access to clean, safe, and reliable electricity is a precursor for clean water, better education, improved health care, increased economic development, better employment and, ultimately, a better quality of life for many Indigenous communities.