The purpose this study is to work with an Indigenous community who has adopted a community-based renewable energy project to share stories of how that project relates to community values and goals. For example, community ownership may be expected to positively impact community well-being though economic sovereignty, self-determination and self-sufficiency. The exploratory project will utilize qualitative methods, preferably within a community-based participatory research framework, to address four main research questions: 1) How do renewable (wind) energy projects contribute towards improved well-being; 2) What social values are linked to the desire for community owned renewable energy projects?; 3) How does community entrepreneurship regarding renewable (wind) energy relate to concepts like environmental sovereignty (community control of resources) and self-determination (free choice of communities); 4) How are (might) these early-adopter communities (of indigenous community-based renewable energy) share lessons learned with each other and other communities considering a similar economic development path? Outputs will include forms desired by the local community - e.g., visual media. The work on this study will be in parallel with the A SHARED Future project: Achieving Strength, Health and Autonomy through Renewable Energy Development for the Future.
In the Canadian context, Indigenous communities are leading the way in community-based energy development whereby decision-making, financing and benefits go directly to the communities rather than (solely to) energy companies. Indigenous populations of Canada, however, experience a disproportionate lack of well-being in comparison with non-Indigneous Canadian populations. This relative lack of well-being is the result of a colonial history. In an Indigenous context self-determination, self-sufficiency and the strengthening of culture, are all part of the well-being of an individual and community. Well-being is multidimensional and includes both economics and a person’s connections with their family, community and land. Community owned renewable energy initiatives are relatively rare in Canada despite the fact that community owned renewable energy projects are often hailed as being highly sustainable. Thus, there is much to be learned with Indigenous communities who are engaged in community-led projects, as visionaries and leaders from whom other communities can learn.
This research is designed to respect principles of reconciliation while at the same time addressing lessons being learned within the local community regarding turbines. We will use a methodology that makes sense to the community, but will likely framed by a community-based approach that respects the research desires of the collaborating community. This is an approach that recognizes a troubled and past where ‘research’ is tied to a colonial history of coopting knowledge, data, and samples from Indigenous communities without due attention to community benefits and acknowledgment. Community based research can serve to counter this by building community partnerships and practicing collaboration to develop a research topic that mutually benefits the community and researcher. Interviews with community members will likely be combined with visually-based approaches like photo-voice or photo elicitation.
This research will bring into focus how what the local wind energy project means to local residents - which may inform how community leaders move forward with the project. In the broader picture, the work is significant as Indigenous communities, globally, work towards creating a space within the economic system that is based on their own terms; terms which foster their knowledge systems, culture, language and self-determination. Outcomes of this research will also include community gatherings and ideally, a conference style meeting with numerous First Nation communities to share experiences of community owned renewable energy projects and help inspire communities who may be keen on learning more about their options with regards to renewable energy projects and community benefits.