Solar panels empower indigenous people in Canada's north

Mon Oct 26, 2015 2:08am EDT
 
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By Chris Arsenault

BEHCHOKO, Northwest Territories, Canada (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Daniel T'seleie, an indigenous activist in Canada's far north, is campaigning to help his people wean themselves from a worrying dependence on imported fuel and food, recover old traditions and win greater autonomy from the government.

In a region with nearly 24 hours of daylight in the summer, one way to help meet his goals seems obvious: more solar power.

"Right now a lot of communities in the Northwest Territories are dependent on diesel-generated electricity, along with store-bought food," said T'seleie in an open air interview near Behchoko, a clutch of small wooden houses nestled along the shores of Great Slave Lake.

Standing beside spindly jack pine trees growing from thin soil on the hard granite rock that covers much of northern Canada, T'seleie sees renewable energy as the force which could respond to the region's complex, intertwined challenges.

Canada's north is particularly vulnerable to global warming, which is making it harder for indigenous people to continue their traditions of hunting and trapping on the land, as ice sheets are melt and caribou herds collapse.

And although indigenous people want what they call a "nation to nation" relationship with the Canadian government, they largely depend on it for diesel fuel in order to keep warm.

By harnessing renewable energy, T'seleie believes indigenous communities could gain more freedom from the state and revive ancient cultural practices, while doing their part to combat climate change which is hitting them particularly hard.

"Any way that communities can produce energy at a local level produces independence," said the 34-year-old, sporting a baseball cap and jeans, the informal dress common in Canada's rugged north.   Continued...

 
The town of Behchoko, which is mostly populated by indigenous members of the Dene Nation, is shown in this October 2, 2015 file photo.  REUTERS/Chris Arsenault/Thomson Reuters Foundation/Files