By Jonny Wakefield
August 27, 2015
A First Nation known for its battles with pipeline companies is making headlines for a different kind of energy.
The Lubicon Lake First Nation, a 500-member band north of Edmonton, is in the process of installing a 20.8-kilowatt solar project to power the band health centre, which some hope will draw attention to clean power in the oil and gas-producing region.
“I think because people have seen the detrimental impacts from oil spills and from resource extraction happening in our traditional territory, this is a new way forward,” Melina Laboucan, the student spearheading the project, told the CBC.
The panels are practical, providing nearly-free energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 16 to 24 tonnes each year. But the project also serves a symbolic purpose.
Laboucan said the reserve has seen a higher incidence of respiratory diseases and cancers, which she believes is tied to oil sands development in the region.
Earlier this year, the nation took Penn West Petroleum to court alleging the leasing of oil and gas rights to the company amounted to trespass on its traditional territories.
In March, the nation expressed concerns over a 17,000-barrel oil spill near its traditional hunting grounds, which Chief Bernard Ominayak said the nation did not hear about until 11 days after the fact.
In a follow-up release, Ominayak said the nation still had “no answers” from Murphy Oil on the spill’s environmental and health impacts.
Laboucan, who is completing a master’s thesis on indigenous governance, told the CBC the solar panels will last at least 25 years, and could work for 50 years.
“The little kids here will watch the sun power part of the community as they grow well into their adult years,” she said. “The panels will be here well past the life of many oil companies.”
The panels were paid for in part with $45,000 in donations from environmental organizations and activist/actor Jane Fonda.
Lubicon Lake had 511 registered members in 2015, according to Aboriginal Affairs Canada.