First Nations lead push for energy justice

Last month in Melbourne a panel of First Nations leaders from WA, NT, Queensland, NSW and Victoria as well as Canada shared stories of traditional sustainable practice and their vision for using renewables to achieve energy justice at this year’s Community Energy Congress.

Delegates from First Nations used the event to launch the First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance to use community energy to achieve self determination.

A growing number of remote and regional Aboriginal communities are looking to use community energy projects – designed, owned or operated by local people – to support living on Country, break the reliance on expensive and polluting fuels and solve long term energy challenges.

Members from multiple Nations were present including Euahlyia Nation Goodooga NSW, Ngalia Nation Leonora WA, Yidinji, Mbarbarum & Njadon Nations Cairns QLD, Nyemba Nation Brewarrina NSW, Wongathar Nation Kalgoorlie WA, Dadaway Nation Kimberley WA, Yanyuwa & Garrawa Boorooloola NT, Murriwarri Nation Weilmoringle NSW, Noognar Nation Perth WA, Tjapawrung, Brabrooloong & Krauatungulung Clans Vic.

The panel shared personal stories and challenges of living with current actions that mirror colonisation including impacts on the stolen generations, closure of remote communities by local government and exclusion from legal recourse to challenge corporate greed in resource extraction on Country.

Now, the First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance will aim to start new partnerships so communities can transition to renewable energy.

First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance – Formation from Eleanor Gilbert on Vimeo.

One Aboriginal community member referred to the ‘psychology of poverty’ as an example of how First Nation communities in Australia have been split. Fears about survival have led some leaders to accept money from companies who, the audience were told in one example, neglect to inform them about water pollution that effectively drives community from the land in order to protect their own health.

The panel also spoke about rising costs of power for many communities, and how they’re planning to cut down on costs with community solar projects.

Speaking later with SBS news, Kado Muir, director of the Katampul Aboriginal Corporation in Leonora, Western Australia, spoke about how communities are installing solar panels to cut down on power bills.

“My community is going through putting on renewables, so, by June we’ll have panels on our roofs and battery packs in the buildings,” he said.

“And what we’re hoping to do with putting in, installing, the solar panels and the batteries is to reduce the household power expenditure.”

Community energy could be the difference between life and death for Aboriginal people on Country. One Aboriginal leader said “We have to band together as Indigenous leaders with the broader community energy movement to achieve our goals.”

People power and allies is key to the future. One young man told me: “I use my understanding gained from my white Dad to back my community, interpreting between our cultures and practice on Country to support Elders for our future.”

A central western desert community member spoke of an All Grid Energy project that will install solar PV systems on houses, plus battery storage. This will protect families from huge energy costs that they currently experience due to being so remote from energy generation sites.

In addition they have received Australian Carbon Credit Units to plant trees, choosing traditional bush foods such as the acacia tree to prevent diabetes.

As communities set up their own energy projects, there are opportunities for training young people in the installation and maintenance of solar PV systems to create sustained economic opportunities.

Members of the panel spoke about how solar provides an alternative to polluting energy processes like gas fracking.

In the NT, communities are standing together to protect land, water and country, with Seed Mob recently releasing an open letter demanding a ban on fracked shale gas.

The Lock the Gate movement has created strong relationships between black and white community taking actions together to prevent damaging extractive processes.

The formation of a First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance shows that Aboriginal leaders are serious about solar power, and that community energy can be a catalyst for community empowerment and self-determination.

*Compiled by Vicky Grosser with thanks and acknowledgement of panel presenters.

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