Minister of Northern Affairs Daniel Vandal rises during a meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 9. Vandal took a “virtual tour” of the Yukon Aug. 25, paying a digital visit to three First Nations-led green energy initiatives as well as local businesses impacted by COVID-19. (Justin Tang/CP)

Minister of Northern Affairs takes virtual tour of First Nations’ green energy projects

Daniel Vandal said he was impressed by the resiliency of Yukon business owners and First Nations

Canada’s Minister of Northern Affairs took a “virtual tour” of the Yukon Aug. 25, paying a digital visit to three First Nations-led green energy initiatives as well as local businesses impacted by COVID-19.

In an interview following the tour, Daniel Vandal said he was “very impressed by the resiliency and creativity of both the business owners and the First Nations” in the territory.

“Of course everyone is COVID-fatigued, I could tell, including myself … They’re looking to get to the other side,” he said.

Vandal spoke to two Yukon First Nations and one First Nation just across the border in British Columbia about microgrids project that had been funded via the Northern Responsible Energy Approach for Community Heat and Electricity (REACHE) program in 2018-19.

Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Taku River Tlingit First Nation have each collaborated with MGrid Energy Inc. to install solar panel and battery systems at a culture camp, fish camp and farm building, respectively, to reduce diesel consumption and energy costs.

The Northern REACHE program gave $196,253 to get the initiative off the ground.

Asked why he was touring a project funded two years ago instead of more recent or other ones — the program has funded 12 Yukon-based projects in total since 2018-19 — Vandal said he wanted to highlight “positive projects that are good for the environment” and that are helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It just demonstrates an important collaboration between the federal government and First Nations in Yukon, where you have local leadership who have organized themselves and accessed some supports and some funding to develop these microgrid projects,” he said.

No one from any of the three First Nations were available for comment for this story.

However, in a press release from the federal government, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph said the First Nation was “pleased to have Canada’s support in our response to climate change.”

“The solar panels at our working and teaching farm will improve production and reduce our dependency on food being delivered on diesel-fueled trucks from the south,” Joseph said. “This approach decreases our impact on the environment and increases food security for our community. Battling climate change is everyone’s responsibility, and we are pleased to be doing our part.”

Carcross/Tagish First Nation Haa Shaa du Henn Lynda Dickson had a similar statement, saying that the First Nation “has always sought to live in harmony with the land” and was “pleased to have access to off-grid renewable energy, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and doing our part to lessen the harm caused by global warming.”

“A principle from the Taku River Tlingit Constitution: It is the land from which we came that connects all life,” spokesperson John D. Ward said in the same press release. “Our land is our lifeblood. Our land looks after us, and we look after our land. Anything that happens to Tlingit land affects us and our culture.”

The federal Climate Change and Clean Energy program has provided $3.4 million to the three First Nations since 2016 to monitor and address climate change, according to the press release.

Before speaking to the First Nations, Vandal also virtually met with three Yukon businesses, one of which he described as an “exploring company” dependent on travel and tourism.

All were “surviving, but hurting,” he said, and had told him they’d used federal support programs to some degree to stay afloat.

“We’re determined to work in partnership with all the businesses and First Nations throughout this pandemic,” Vandal said. “We will get on the other side of this.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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