• Tanna Pirie-Wilson, right, participates in a session on Day 2 of the 20/20 Catalysts program

    Tanna Pirie-Wilson, right, and Grant Sullivan participate in a session on Day 2 of the 20/20 Catalysts program. (Photo: Ellen Bond) 

Tanna Pirie-Wilson has a bold vision.

The 36-year-old from Tobique First Nation, located northwest of Fredericton, New Brunswick, wants to see the community of nearly 2,000 people become a leader in clean energy production and sustainable housing in Atlantic Canada.

The provincial government announced last year it is looking to partner with First Nations and other community groups on small-scale renewable energy projects. Pirie leapt at the opportunity and is looking to develop a solar power pilot project for Tobique as well as a wind farm with a production capacity of 20 megawatts.

On July 11, she joined 19 other First Nations leaders from across Canada in Wakefield, Que. for the inaugural session of the 20/20 Catalysts program.

“There’s an amazing amount of knowledge among the participants,” Pirie said. “Sometimes as First Nations we can be so siloed because of the different needs of our communities, so it’s really exciting to see this shared passion for protecting our resources.”

The Catalysts, as they are collectively known, hail from seven provinces and all three territories, but they, like Pirie, believe that indigenous people will set the agenda for renewable energy development in Canada. The 20/20 program is designed to give them the skills and contacts they need to advance clean energy projects and create jobs in their own communities.

Over the course of three weeklong sessions, they will hear from mentors in the government, financial and energy sectors on diverse topics like how to facilitate community consultations, how to secure project financing, and how to navigate the environmental assessment process. 

After the program concludes, the Catalysts will be encouraged to keep in touch with their mentors and with each other as they turn their newfound knowledge into action.

Chris Henderson, president of Lumos Clean Energy Advisors and creator of the Catalysts program, said the program grew out of his belief that indigenous people have to be true partners in energy projects that take place on their land.

“Canada is looking more and more towards electric vehicles, smart grids, renewables, and there’s no reason why indigenous communities shouldn’t play in that space,” Henderson said. “I hope that in five years what we’ve done is create a First Nations clean energy network for Canada, with indigenous people driving the projects, owning the projects.”