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NCC president Dale Swampy says clean energy needs to be balanced

Summit to bring ‘pro-development’ chiefs together to pursue clean energy initiatives
Dale Swampy. (Web photo/

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith will headline a summit on clean energy hosted by the National Coalition of Chiefs (NCC) this month in Calgary.

The invitation was issued despite Smith’s government imposing a temporary moratorium on new renewable electricity this past August in order to conduct a regulatory review.

According to a fact sheet produced by the Pembina Institute, at least six projects with Indigenous involvement were impacted by the moratorium. Indigenous Clean Energy, a national organization, says there are at least 40 green energy projects in Alberta that have some degree of Indigenous ownership.

The regulatory review report is to be submitted to Nathan Neudorf, minister of Affordability and Utilities, by March 29. However, there is no timeframe as to when Neudorf is to respond to those recommendations.

NCC president Dale Swampy, a member of the Samson Cree Nation, doesn’t see a contradiction in Smith addressing the 90 or so chiefs from across Canada who are expected to attend the NCC Clean Energy Summit Feb. 15 and Feb. 16.

Swampy contends that clean energy needs to be balanced with other forms of energy. He points to the electricity grid warnings that were issued by the Alberta Electric System Operator over multiple days in mid-January when extreme cold weather overtaxed the system.

“One of the main concerns for Alberta, of course, for First Nations in Western Canada, is that we have sustainable energy, sustainable power for our communities and sustainable power doesn’t include alone the wind and solar projects. They would be backed up by projects like gas-powered energy,” he said.

Swampy’s view echoes Smith’s criticism of Ottawa pushing for a “net-zero” system, which restricts the use of natural gas power.

Further, Swampy doesn’t believe that the renewable energy moratorium will cause any lasting harm on clean energy development opportunities for First Nations in Alberta.

“We think the moratorium will probably wind down here in the next year or so. It only applies to things like wind and solar, which don’t include the whole energy transition model that Canada needs,” he said.

NCC was formed in 2017 to provide a stronger voice to First Nations within Canada’s natural resource industry.

“We believe the coalition model is the answer towards getting major projects developed and increases more certainty and also gives more influence for First Nations to negotiate as a group rather than individually in order to maximize their benefits on major natural resource projects,” said Swampy.

NCC has also started a national First Nations water authority, a model that follows the successful Atlantic First Nations Water Authority. AFNWA is the first Indigenous water utility in the country, managing water and wastewater for 17 participating area First Nations.

Swampy says establishing regional water authorities is important “because we believe in the next few decades, fresh water is going to be the biggest economic driver in this country because the shortage of water with climate change, and so forth, detrimentally affecting our ability to keep our water clean.”

Water licenses have also been a concern voiced by First Nations in Alberta. Under the Public Lands Act, the provincial government owns all water in the province and First Nations must apply for licenses to draw water even if there is a river running through their community.

In light of Smith’s Sovereignty Act, the first piece of legislation she brought in as premier, First Nations have voiced further concerns that Smith will use the legislation to override treaties.

Swampy doesn’t share that concern and points to a December 2023 Environmental Appeals Board hearing in which the Stoney Nakoda Nation was given standing to voice its opposition to a preliminary certificate issued to an oil and gas businessman to draw water, which would impact Stoney Nakoda.

“The Stoney Nakoda Nation has been able to protect their water sourcing from developments within their region and the UCP government backed them in the issues and concerns that they have regarding that,” said Swampy of Smith’s ruling United Conservative Party.

Initially, Stoney Nakoda had not been consulted by Alberta’s Aboriginal Consultation Office. The nation only received standing following a decision by the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board, an independent body appointed by the provincial Cabinet. A decision on the water license is still pending.

The Clean Energy Summit will include presentations by other coalitions, including Watay Power, NexGen Energy, K’uul Power and the First Nations LNG Alliance.

Watay Power is a group of 24 First Nations in Northern Ontario that are building and operating the 1,800 km Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line.

The line will connect 17 remote First Nations to the Ontario power grid, removing their reliance on diesel-generated electricity.

“Now they’re building a road and they’re supporting the Ring of Fire initiative for mining metals for vehicles and batteries for assisting in a clean energy transition,” said Swampy.

NexGen Energy has a partnership with First Nations in Saskatchewan for mining uranium, which will supply small modular reactors and other nuclear-type facilities.

First Nations LNG Alliance CEO Karen Ogen-Toews will speak about the 22 First Nations in British Columbia that are supporting LNG development in that province.

K’uul Power is a coalition of 11 First Nations pursuing the development and ownership of renewable energy transmission and generation projects from Prince George, B.C. to the coast.

“These are the type of things that we want to promote. We’re not a really political-driven organization, although we pride ourselves in not being funded by the federal government or provincial governments so that we can speak against policy without the threat of losing our funding for the year,” said Swampy.

The Canadian Infrastructure Bank will present on its Indigenous inclusion initiatives, such as supporting infrastructure leading to clean energy.

Keynote speaker for the event is businessman Brett Wilson, primarily known for his appearances on the show Dragon’s Den.

While not all First Nations support mining metals in the Ring of Fire in Ontario or the Golden Triangle in northwestern B.C., Swampy says “pro-development chiefs” want to continue this work and lead their nations in the natural resource industry.

“We’ve failed to do so in the last 70 years. We need to start to lead projects rather than wait for project development leaders to come to our door. We believe that the First Nations should be the lead in natural resource development across this country,” he said.

Resource development is one way to lift First Nations out of poverty, he adds, noting that NCC expanded its mandate in 2018 to include “defeat(ing) on-reserve poverty.”

To that end NCC has established a national First Nations electricians apprenticeship program. Presently implemented in Ontario with the Canadian Union of Skilled Workers, there is hope of expanding it into Alberta, which would also include manufacturing groups. The program focuses on recruiting First Nation members on reserves. To qualify, they must have Grade 10 science and math.

NCC also runs a national social welfare employment program targeting First Nations members on reserves who have never had a full-time job because they live in a remote community or don’t have the proper education or skills. The program transitions First Nation individuals from social welfare to employment in such areas as the manufacturing industry.

NCC receives its fundings through sponsorships and registration fees for events.

Swampy says band council resolutions or a commitment in writing from bands isn’t required as NCC does not have to report to the either the federal or provincial governments.

Since the organization began operating, Swampy says First Nations right across the country have had more success in the natural resource industry.

“A lot of things have been happening in the last seven years and we’d like to believe we were part of that whole transition,” he said.