Energy is one of the cornerstones on which prosperous, sustainable communities are built. It keeps the lights on so our children can study, it lets our businesses thrive and our economy grow, and it keeps us warm against the cold Canadian night.

For Indigenous peoples, energy represents more than just a resource — it represents opportunity. Energy projects bring communities together, create new jobs and economic stimulus, improve health and sustainability, and position the people in the community for a prosperous future.

In this vast province of ours, many remote and Indigenous communities do not have equitable access to the education, funding, and infrastructure required to benefit from a clean and reliable energy supply. Now, many are taking control of their energy, and the leadership they are providing is creating a multitude of benefits for their communities.

Indigenous communities are now leading or partnering on major transmission projects and over 700 renewable generation projects, providing new revenue streams and employment opportunities. Conservation programs, such as the housing retrofit program completed by Five Nations Energy on the west coast of James Bay, are reducing electricity costs and improving comfort and health for residents. And innovative community-driven projects like the Gull Bay First Nation microgrid are helping remote communities reduce their reliance on diesel fuel.

These successes are to be celebrated, but there is an opportunity to do more.

Setting Indigenous communities up for success

As a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, the well-being of Indigenous communities is close to my heart. At Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), our objective is to build relationships with Indigenous communities across the province and provide the energy support they need to create vibrant and prosperous communities.

We have recognized the need to shape our energy support programs to community-identified priorities and objectives. Following months of community engagement with First Nations and Métis, including a gathering of representatives from close to 100 First Nations at the Indigenous Community Energy Symposium last fall, we have taken steps to improve our programs so that they best meet the needs of these communities.

This May, we launched enhanced Indigenous Energy Support Programs. These programs include education, training, and planning support as well as funding for new, renewable community-led energy projects and partnerships, including support to hire a Community Energy Champion. The application processes have been streamlined and the eligibility requirements broadened, with the goal of making these programs as accessible as possible for all communities that can benefit from them.

The IESO also learned through its engagements that many First Nations communities have embraced energy conservation and community energy planning, but others are not as far along the continuum. Métis and First Nation citizens, particularly seniors, are struggling with the cost of energy and are not aware of the conservation opportunities available to them. Looking ahead, the IESO will be working to refine existing conservation programs and develop new ones that will be better aligned with community-identified needs, priorities, and objectives.

Keeping the conversation going

As these initiatives progress, we continue to seek feedback from Indigenous communities, through our website (ieso.ca/IndigenousRelations), by phone, and by putting boots on the ground in communities for invaluable face-to-face meetings and relationship-building. In addition, the IESO will be hosting Energy Symposium Conferences for both First Nation and Métis representatives this fall. By working together towards community-driven goals, we can work in partnership to enable a robust, reliable, and sustainable energy future for all First Nations and Métis of this province, no matter how remote.

Chi – Miigwetch: Nya: weh; Marsi; Thank you; Merci