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PowerMakers: Building First Nations power in the clean energy sector

Our 5-day PowerMakers program designed to empower First Nations people to drive First Nations participation in and ownership of clean energy solutions in communities and negotiate partnership, equity and ownership outcomes started yesterday in Cairns, with 30 First Nations leaders attending.

Karrina Nolan, co-Chair of the First Nations Clean Energy Network, says without First Nations having a stake in clean and renewable energy as genuine partners and participants, Australia’s energy transition won’t happen at the pace and scale required. 

“First Nations people are already identifying renewable energy solutions needed in homes and communities. They want to plan, build and own energy solutions that positively impact and benefit families and communities already suffering the impacts of climate change.

“Settings including rebates and grants have been available for some years across Australia, policy, regulatory and financial barriers remain inhibiting First Nations access to affordable reliable clean energy solutions.

“Many communities are still reliant on diesel, and where there is electricity, suffer disproportionate power disconnections and related health and wellbeing impacts. 

“Concurrently, these same First Nations communities are responding to multiple proponents - from domestic to multinational - wanting to urgently build massive large-scale energy projects on their land.

“The PowerMakers program is essential to assist First Nations groups successfully negotiate with proponents early engagement, ongoing consent, equity partnerships and ownership while also planning for and developing locally based energy solutions to benefit families and communities currently missing out.”

Following a competitive process, 30 First Nations participants from communities across Australia were selected for PowerMakers from over 100 applicants.

The participants will spend five days in an immersive experience learning about renewable energy, community energy planning, advanced energy systems, project ownership and negotiation, and business management.

Chris Henderson, founding executive director of ICE says while Australia is at the starting block, Canada’s Indigenous communities began seeking clean energy sovereignty and the development of community-led projects over 20 years ago. 

“Since then, First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities have become some of the most powerful clean energy change agents in the country, owning or co-owning over 20% of Canada's clean energy infrastructure projects and thousands of smaller, community-based installations.

“In the last decade alone, this First Nations leadership in Canada has fostered 200 medium to large renewable energy projects which have helped to generate $1.5 billion in Indigenous business and employment contracts.”

Two years ago, Daphne Kay, a member of the Cowessess First Nation, participated in ICE's capacity-building initiative, known as the 20/20 Catalysts Program. Her involvement in this program aimed to grow her role as a Community Energy Specialist at Cowessess Ventures Ltd., where she supported clean energy project developments in her Nation. 

Daphne has since transitioned to the Global Hub Manager role at ICE where she has been sharing her experiences, expertise and teachings to support Indigenous kin around the world. 

“When I first started working for my Nation, I took the 20/20 Catalysts Program thinking I would be able to further help my people. But what I didn't realise was that the Catalysts Program was a window to a network of incredible changemakers who collectively work for the betterment of all beings,” says Daphne.

“We don’t consider ourselves stakeholders. We consider ourselves rights-holders.

"We have rights over this land, meaning we have obligations to steward the land in a sustainable way for the next generations of all creation.

“Unfortunately, Indigenous Peoples around the world experience systemic legacies of colonisation. As we take back our power and create spaces like the PowerMakers Program, we are healing ourselves. We are reconnecting to each other and the land and envisioning how we move forward as a collective.”

PowerMakers aims to address Community, industry and government-identified gaps in First Nations clean energy capacity in Australia, further enabling the federal government’s National Energy Transformation Partnership commitments to be met.

The inaugural capacity-building program for First Nations is made possible by philanthropic donations and a grant from the Clean Energy Council.

It is hoped the program will be delivered annually going forward to support the next generation of First Nations leaders tackle policy constructs and barriers imposed by regulatory environments and an unreasonable lack of access to capital to progress local, mid- and large-scale clean energy solutions in partnership with industry and government.

Learn more about PowerMakers