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Protest as Pedagogy

Teaching, Learning, and Indigenous Environmental Movements


Gregory Lowan-Trudeau

Written during a time characterized by catalyzing Indigenous environmental movements such as Idle No More, political upheaval, and the final years of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Protest as Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning, and Indigenous Environmental Movements was motivated by Gregory Lowan-Trudeau’s personal experiences as an activist, educator, and researcher. Insights from interviews with activists and educators in a variety of school, community, and post-secondary contexts are presented in relation to teaching and learning during, and in response to, Indigenous environmental movements. Looking toward future possibilities, the rise of renewable energy development by Indigenous communities across Canada is also considered. Throughout Protest as Pedagogy, these inquiries are guided by a theoretical framework built on concepts such as decolonization, Herbert Marcuse’s repressive tolerance, Elliot Eisner’s three curricula, and broader fields of study such as social movement learning, critical media literacy, Indigenous media studies, and environmental communication.

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Chapter 7. Resistance Revisioned: Indigenous Renewable Energy Development and Education

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Indigenous Renewable Energy Development and Education1

Upon consideration of the resistance movements and educational efforts described in the previous chapters, one might be led to ponder possible paths forward for Indigenous individuals and communities in Canada and elsewhere. In such a spirit, this chapter presents insights from an inquiry into renewable energy development by Indigenous communities across Canada. The focus is on Indigenous leadership in developing renewable energy projects that align with traditional ecological philosophies while also providing increased economic and energy security, sovereignty, and educational opportunities. These projects build new knowledges and practices across cultural divides. Broader sociocritical concerns regarding renewable energy development, the associated challenges of renewable energy education, and Indigenous environmental education in the context of capitalist and nationalist agendas are also discussed. ← 127 | 128 →

Leading Indigenous thinkers such as Anishnaabe scholar and leader Laduke (2014) and Maori scholar Maria Bargh (2010), both supportive of Indigenous renewable energy projects in general, note that some Indigenous communities are in fact held back by outsiders’ over-romanticization of Indigenous environmental traditions; they don’t want Indigenous peoples to embrace and become leaders in contemporary technologies as it challenges their outdated notions of Indigeneity. Bargh also notes that such a view fails to fulfill the provisions enshrined in the UN’s International Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous people to not only continue traditional harvesting activities on traditional lands, but also to pursue development in a contemporary manner.

Stephanie Daza and Eve Tuck (2014) point to Kevin Bruyneel’s (2007) intriguing adaption of Homi Bhabha’s Third Space as a useful lens for analyzing what Bruyneel describes as the false binaries of Indigenous sovereignty and contemporary development in North America. Bruyneel proposes to use Bhabha’s intermediary Third Space to describe the experiences of many Indigenous communities in North America today. Rather than being pushed into a ‘false choice’ (p. 219) of either-or scenarios as some, in keeping with North American grand narratives of Indigenous peoples might stereotypically assume, Indigenous peoples do indeed have the right to simultaneously assert control over their own territorial matters rooted in traditional knowledge systems and practices while also engaging with American and Canadian societies in a contemporary manner.

Daza and Tuck (2014) emphasize the importance of this sort of critical reflexivity with regards to our individual and collective ideologies. Indeed, the perspective above may initially seem somewhat contradictory and prove unsettling for some who are rightly suspicious of unfettered development and perhaps unfamiliar with Indigenous land-based traditions. However, it is an important expression of a contemporary Indigenous epistemological and ontological orientation that not only includes traditional worldviews, knowledge, and practices, but also the critical consumption of and engagement with contemporary technologies and societal systems in order to further Indigenous community environmental, economic and political sovereignty. These considerations take on even deeper complexity when we acknowledge the plurality of voices and perspectives of individuals or, for example, differences in opinion between hereditary and elected leaders within contemporary Indigenous communities on such topics in general, or more specifically, a particular resource development project (Davis, 2015). ← 128 | 129 →

Indigenous peoples in North America and elsewhere have always relied upon and developed intimate locally-grounded connections with and understanding of the natural world in order to survive and thrive, not just for esoteric spiritual inspiration (Brody, 1998; Menzies, 2006). Successful communities learned and passed on strategies for using land and water as well as harvesting animals and plants in ways that ensured not only the short-term survival of the people, but also the long-term well-being of the entire ecosystem. Anishnaabe author and scholar Leanne Simpson (2004) also emphasizes the dark history of Western commodification of Indigenous environmental knowledges without due compensation provided to the original keepers of such traditions.

As a Métis scholar and educator of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry, I argue throughout this chapter that Indigenous communities’ embrace of renewable energy across Canada as a potential source of political and economic sovereignty is a type of reclamation of land and environmental rights. Such an approach aligns well with Bruyneel’s (2007) interpretation of the Third Space in contemporary Indigenous contexts; it is, in effect, a manifestation of resistance that emerges from working both within and outside of established political and economic systems in the service of Indigenous well-being. This chapter thus aims to recognize the inextricable connections between social and environmental justice, especially for Indigenous peoples, and acknowledges that such an approach is, in itself, a form of resistance. Pedagogically, it compels educators to move beyond cultural and disciplinary boundaries to consider the inextricable connections between land, spatial, and environmental justice in Indigenous contexts. In this venture, my ideas build on literature discussing Indigenous environmental activism (e.g., Kno-Nda-Niimi Collective, 2014; Laduke, 2014; Thomas Muller, 2014), land-based education (e.g., Korteweg & Russell, 2012; Tuck, McKenzie, & McCoy, 2014; Wildcat, McDonald, Irlbacher-Fox, & Coulthard, 2014), renewable energy initiatives within and between Indigenous communities (Henderson, 2013; Ozog, 2012) and general pedagogical considerations for renewable energy education (Jennings, 2009; Jennings & Lund, 2001).

Indigenous Sovereignty and Environmental Degradation

As discussed in previous chapters, disputes over land use, resource development, and associated socio-ecological issues in Indigenous territories are ← 129 | 130 → widespread across North America (Alfred, 2009; Laduke, 2014; Menzies, 2006) and around the world (Kassam, 2009; Lane, 2006; Thomas-Muller, 2014; Tiam Fook, 2010). In Canada, opposition to the tar sands (Black, D’Arcy, Weis, & Kahn Russell, 2014), associated pipelines such as Northern Gateway (Boulton, 2013; Gunton & Broadbent, 2013), hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ near Elsipogtog, New Brunswick (Parfomak, Pirog, Luther, & Vann, 2013), and the country-wide grassroots movement Idle No More (Kno-nda-niimi Collective, 2014; Thomas Muller, 2014), often dominates left-leaning independent news headlines with variable coverage by mainstream outlets, and provokes heated debate across the political spectrum.

Many current events also transcend traditional Indigenous and colonial borders. As I mentioned in Chapter Two, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry bitumen-laden tar sands oil across the Canadian prairies and the American Great Plains, including extensive tracts of Indigenous territory on both sides of the border is but one example. The Standing Rock Sioux’s opposition to the Dakota Pipeline (Macpherson, 2016), which was initially only reported by alternative media outlets but eventually gained widespread attention in the run-up to the US presidential election, is another; both the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL have encountered intense organized resistance from Indigenous peoples and allies across North America.

Such resistance efforts continue and build upon the foundational work of past generations in both Canada and the US. Both broadly based organizations such as Red Power (Bruyneel, 2007) and more local manifestations such as the Oka resistance in Khanawake, Québec (Kalant, 2004) inform those struggling today. These efforts also occur in local, global, and international contexts with both explicit and implicit connections to other social and environmental justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and Arab Spring, among others.

However, as Laduke (2014) suggests, constant efforts to resist violations of Indigenous territories and rights distracts both effort and attention from the equally inspiring resurgence and re-visioning of Indigenous traditions that is occurring throughout North America/Turtle Island. Kanien’kehaka scholar Alfred (2009) also suggests that the ultimate embodiment of resistance is the rejection of colonial systems and the renewal of Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies.

Fortunately, despite the aforementioned plethora of socio-ecological conflicts across North America, inspiring examples in this spirit are rapidly emerging. For example, as discussed in previous chapters, there has been a ← 130 | 131 → dramatic rise in the number of land-based education programs (Korteweg & Russell, 2012; Lowan-Trudeau, 2015; Tuck et al., 2014; Wildcat et al., 2014). Initiatives such as Dechinta (Freeland Ballantyne, 2014), a land-based and university-affiliated program in Canada’s Northwest Territories, have gained increased attention. Land-based programs vary in focus and delivery depending on the region and community, but are typically united by an intention to revive, renew, preserve, and share traditional environmental knowledges and philosophies through experiential outdoor approaches.

In some cases, renewal of traditional philosophies and practices is part of a direct response to encroachment on traditional territories. As Simpson (2002) notes, the simultaneous resistance to environmental degradation and intergenerational revival of traditional environmental knowledge is crucially important as the ‘continuance [of Indigenous] peoples will be dependent upon the ability of our youth to protect traditional lands; reclaim, revitalize, and nurture our traditional systems of knowledge and language; and build sustainable local economies’ (p. 15).

A strong example of this is Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario which is well known for its ongoing blockade and resistance to logging in its territory as well for the devastating impacts of industrial mercury poisoning still experienced by the community (Duplassie, 2014; Willow, 2012). In conjunction with their resistance efforts, several Grassy Narrows’ community members have also started formal and informal land-based educational initiatives to revive, preserve, and share their traditional knowledge with younger generations. Such actions to move beyond protest and resistance towards a re-envisioned future are recognized and supported by Hall (2009), a social movement learning scholar, who suggests that:

New generations of social movements are not merely oriented to ‘critiquing’ dominant society but they are simultaneously engaged in regenerative activities and offering alternatives to reshape the very grammar of life. In short, we see the transition from a phase of ‘protest’ to a phase of ‘proposal.’ (p. 68)

As demonstrated by the inquiry described below into renewable energy development across Canada, an increasing number of Indigenous communities are indeed moving towards and even beyond proposals to not only resist encroachment and revive traditional ways of life, but also re-vision themselves as leaders in renewable energy development.

As Bruyneel (2007) suggests in his interpretation of contemporary Indigenous development efforts as manifestations of sovereignty in the Third Space, ← 131 | 132 → resistance is also increasingly accompanied by community-based initiatives aimed not only at reviving, protecting, and sharing Indigenous ecological knowledge and wisdom, but also re-visioning it for contemporary applications. For example, Laduke (2014) describes the challenges faced by her own community in simultaneously resisting further expansion of oil and gas companies into their territory while also attempting to revive and share traditional environmental knowledge and intergenerational pedagogical practices. Other communities such as Tsou’ke First Nation in British Columbia have also embraced renewable energy and other low-impact technologies in concert with the reclamation of traditional practices in order to provide enhanced energy, food, and economic security through successful collaboration with academics, industry experts, and training their own community members as solar technicians (Kimmett, 2009). Tsou’ke has also been actively sharing their experiences with other Indigenous communities to support the spread and sustained development of such initiatives (Ozog, 2012). Such efforts have been successful, as evidence of renewable energy development in Indigenous communities is seen to be on the rise across Canada and around the world.

Sociopolitical Complexities of Renewable Energy Development

Increasing awareness of and concern for climate change, decreasing oil reserves, increasing energy needs, and decreasing costs for technologies such as solar panels have all contributed to a significant global rise in renewable energy development. However, as demonstrated throughout this chapter, as renewable energy has grown, so too have associated sociopolitical complexities. For example, Dan van der Horst (2007) describes the common phenomenon of a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) mentality with regards to renewable energy development, most often in response to proposed windmill installations, as an example of a ‘social gap’; while many people support the idea of renewable energy in principle, when faced with such developments that they perceive as potentially disruptive of or intrusive to their own lives, they may still resist such installations. Georgia Liarakou, Costas Gavrilakis, and Eleni Flouri (2009) concur and suggest that resistance may also arise specifically due to concerns such as visual or noise disruption and worries that, for example, birds may be injured or killed by windmills. Van der Horst also notes that, as with other sociopolitical issues, those most likely to speak out publicly are ← 132 | 133 → often either strongly in favour of or against a particular development. As such, he calls for further qualitative research into the experiences and opinions of a broader range of stakeholders.

Garrett Richards et al. (2012) also suggest that a clear understanding of resistance to renewable energy developments is elusive. However, they propose that common barriers include (1) low societal awareness of renewable energy technologies and their potential environmental and economic benefits, such as supplemental income for farmers and other land owners or communities, (2) a general apathy towards environmental issues in many regions, and (3) a lack of political will. Leah Stokes (2013) also discusses political tensions related to a Feed In Tariff (FIT) program for renewable energy in Ontario, Canada. FIT programs typically provide renewable energy producers, large or small, a fixed rate of return over a set period of time for the energy that they sell, or send into the electrical grid. As such, the fixed rate is not typically the same as the going rate of electricity, which sometimes raises tensions with energy producers. Other jurisdictions opt to use net metering systems wherein producers receive the current rate for any surplus energy sent into the grid. Stokes also notes that NIMBYism can arise in regions where local residents are not benefitting from renewable energy installations. She therefore promotes local ownership of renewable energy developments to boost support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, with the rise of individual and community-owned renewable energy development, large utility companies have begun to resist in different ways in attempts to protect their markets (Brunhuber, 2016). Dynamic complexities such as those described above make the prospect of introducing discussions of and inquiry into renewable energy understandably challenging for many educators and Indigenous community leaders alike.

Indigenous Renewable Energy Projects

While limited academic literature is currently available, a review of publicly available information on renewable energy initiatives by Indigenous communities across Canada revealed that we are in the midst of rapid development with over 300 projects in various stages nationwide. As Bruyneel (2007) might suggest, such developments are inspiring expressions of contemporary Indigenous sovereignty in the Third Space as renewable energy development often aligns with traditional Indigenous ecological philosophies to live lightly on the land (Ozog, 2012). Developments may also provide increased economic ← 133 | 134 → growth and energy sovereignty, stimulate related cultural, ecological, and educational initiatives, and provide training and employment opportunities for community. However, as Bargh (2010), a Maori scholar from Aotearoa/New Zealand argues, we must also be cautious not to overly romanticize such developments as cultural and ecological issues are rapidly rising as projects develop around the world; concerns and controversies have arisen in some jurisdictions related to, for example, disruption of streams and rivers by hydroelectric installations, use of agricultural land for solar panels, and danger to avian species from wind turbines.

Other difficult questions are also emerging related to rights, ownership, and control of such projects, similar to those linked to more established areas of resource development such as mining, forestry, fishing, and oil and gas in Canada and elsewhere (e.g., Lane, 2006; Natcher, 2001), as community-industry-government partnerships form. For example, who would maintain majority control of a privately funded, renewable energy installation developed on Indigenous land after the initial success of a smaller scale project that resulted from a government seed grant? How will profits be shared? How will local community members benefit and be involved in meaningful ways on a long-term basis? How will the knowledge be recorded and shared? And who will be responsible for addressing any environmental concerns or impacts?

While an initial review of literature in this area provided limited results, it quickly became apparent that a large number of projects across Canada are in the early stages of assessment, planning, or development. The two primary sources initially consulted were the federal government’s public listing of communities that received funding through their ecoEnergy program (2015) and the province of British Columbia’s First Nations’ Clean Energy Business Fund (2015). Subsequent exploration revealed further information available through Indigenous community and industry websites, as well as popular news websites.

Initial Findings and Emerging Trends

A review of the sources cited above in 2015 resulted in the identification of approximately 311 renewable energy projects in various stages of development in 194 Indigenous communities across Canada. This is a significant number that continues to rise. British Columbia, with its own provincial clean energy fund for Indigenous communities has, not surprisingly, by far the most developments with approximately 153 at last count. Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, fell a distant second at 82. ← 134 | 135 →

As described in full on the public project website (, all other provinces and territories were significantly lower. For example, Alberta, only had 15 identified projects in 11 communities at last count despite being strategically positioned along the foothills and prairies east of the Canadian Rocky Mountains with high levels of both wind and sunlight. However, as described in Chapter Three, a provincial political shift from a right-wing conservative to a left-leaning social democrat government generally supportive of Indigenous and environmental rights (Morin, 2015) led to the development of a promising new Indigenous solar energy funding program that is sure to dramatically increase the number of projects (

A range of renewable energy sources including wind, solar, geothermal, small scale run-of-river hydro were also identified, often understandably influenced by factors such as the availability and access of wind, sun, river, and geothermal sources. Another trend of note is that, while some projects are still in the exploratory stages of conducting feasibility studies and community energy plans, others have now moved to the development stage, sometimes through further government funding, but often in partnership with either Indigenous or non-Indigenous renewable energy companies. For example, Klahoose First Nation in British Columbia formed a partnership with private firms Alterra Power and Fiera Axium to develop a small-scale run-of-river hydroelectric project in Jimmie Creek (Hanuse, 2015) that received initial feasibility funding from the provincial government’s First Nations Clean Energy fund.

This trend is notable in that it is inspiring to see projects moving to development; however, such developments, especially when supported through industry partnerships, also raise questions and dynamics related to rights, profits, and ownership similar to those faced by communities engaging in other resource sectors such as mining, fishing, forestry and oil and gas (Lane, 2006; Natcher, 2001). As Bargh (2010) suggests, when industry and government are pro-actively aware and respectful of such dynamics, projects have a greater chance of long-term mutually beneficial success, allowing communities, as Bruyneel (2007) describes, to move into a third sovereign space wherein they are able to work with and rely upon the land in keeping with traditional perspectives, while also participating in contemporary society on their own terms. There is increasing precedence for this in Canada and elsewhere as provisions for long-term local employment, health and education funds, and co-management of environmental disaster and remediation have become de facto elements of impact benefit agreements between Indigenous ← 135 | 136 → communities, industry, and government. As Marcus Lane (2006) notes, such critically conscious pro-active community and environmental planning on the part of Indigenous communities can in fact become a manifestation of land justice.

Sharing Success

The successes of many communities are increasingly shared through popular media and community, government, and industry websites, and yet limited academic literature is available on this topic. For example, Sarah Ozog (2012), a former master’s student at the University of Northern British Columbia, documented the success of T’souke First Nation on southern Vancouver Island in not only developing their own solar network, but also associated ecological, cultural, and educational projects; T’Souke First Nation members were trained as solar panel technicians by First Power, an Indigenous renewable energy company, to maintain their own equipment (Kimmett, 2009). Ozog also relates T’Souke’s philosophy of sharing their knowledge and experience with other communities, such as the First Nations community of Skidegate, to support similar developments.

As Bargh (2012) also notes in her discussion of renewable energy developments in Canada and Aotearoa/New Zealand, such initiatives often provide increased energy security and independence for communities, moving some into Bruyneel’s (2007) third sovereign space. This is certainly the case for many Indigenous communities in Canada who, depending on the provincial regulations, are often able to not only support their own community’s energy needs, but also sell excess energy generated by directing it back into the provincial electric grid through FIT, reverse metering, or similar programs (Stokes, 2013). However, while such developments have encountered great success, challenges have also arisen.


One challenge faced by Indigenous communities across Canada and elsewhere looking to move from preliminary, government-funded, feasibility studies and community energy plans brings to mind past experiences with industry partnerships in other resource sectors. This means engaging with concepts such as the duty to consult (Natcher, 2001), co-management (Menzies, 2006), and impact benefit agreements (Whitelaw, McCarthy, & Tsuji, 2009) which are ← 136 | 137 → now commonplace for resource developments in Indigenous territories in Canada due to decades of court battles in response to the degradation of Indigenous territories without adequate consultation or compensation.

As with other more impactful resource developments, communities have to decide on the size and scale with which they are comfortable as it is increasingly recognized that large scale renewable energy installations involving wind, solar, and hydroelectric generators can also have negative impacts on surrounding human communities and ecosystems (Bargh, 2010; Rodman, 2009). Maryam Rezaei and Hadi Dowlatabadi (2015) also emphasize that, in a manner reminiscent of past resource extraction and developments, some communities continue to feel that proposed developments are often incongruent with their own goals and values. Given such complexities, Bargh (2010) suggests that communities should not blindly embrace renewable energy development as a perfect no impact solution; an understanding of the possible impacts of these developments is also required. Communities must also consider fundamental questions related to energy use. For example, is it better to switch to renewable energy or simply reduce energy needs? Or perhaps both? Also, which approach aligns most closely with the traditional teachings of a given community?

Those communities that decide to pursue renewable energy projects may also face pressure to expand and form partnerships with large corporations. In such instances, they might consider and inquire into the experiences of early leaders such as T’Souke First Nation that eventually had the opportunity to partner with a large energy company in developing an offshore wind power farm (CNW, 2013). As described above, T’Souke First Nation’s leadership have been generous in openly sharing insights with other communities interested in renewable energy development.

Atiya Jaffar (2015) also describes the complex, overlapping, and occasionally competing interests of various stakeholders. For example, she suggests that while environmental groups may tout low environmental impact and economic development as the primary goal of renewable energy development, Indigenous communities may, while still valuing such areas of concern, be most interested in the potential for increased sovereignty. Impact benefit agreements (Whitelaw et al., 2009), which clearly delineate the benefits and responsibilities of all stakeholders in a given development which typically includes Indigenous communities, industry, and government, may also prove increasingly useful to communities striving to exercise their legal and constitutionally protected rights in a manner congruent with Bruyneel’s (2007) third sovereign space. ← 137 | 138 →

As similar projects are developed simultaneously in Indigenous communities in the United States (e.g., Dreveskracht, 2011) and Aotearoa/New Zealand (Bargh, 2010), there are increasing opportunities for further sharing between communities both within Canada and internationally. Communities interested in developing renewable energy would do well to first consider current opportunities for funding, whether internally or externally generated. However, communities would also be wise to proceed with caution regarding the potential pitfalls of industry and government partnerships. A keen awareness of resource development and electrical grid regulations would also be prudent. For example, is there a FIT or reverse-meter program in place in a given jurisdiction that allows independent producers to sell excess electricity back to the grid?

Those interested in developing renewable energy projects in Indigenous communities also need to bear in mind the links between cultural and ecological restoration, Western STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) knowledges, traditional ecological practices and technologies, and educational opportunities for Indigenous youth. In keeping with Battiste’s (2005) perspective on decolonization, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators must be active participants in this process, with non-Indigenous educators exercising a certain amount of cultural humility (Lund & Lee, 2015). The wisdom of experienced land-based educators and scholars (e.g., Korteweg & Russell, 2012; Tuck et al., 2014; Wildcat et al., 2014) and those with a particular interest in the interaction of Western and Indigenous knowledge systems (e.g., Hatcher, Bartlett, Marshall, & Marshall, 2009; Sutherland & Swayze, 2012) will also prove helpful in this regard.

Future Considerations

As demonstrated by the backlash of large utility companies against individual and community-owned renewable energy developments (Brunhuber, 2016), innovation can only go so far until it begins to impact the bottom line of the economic elite. Indigenous communities that increasingly occupy Bruyneel’s (2007) third sovereign space and challenge popular notions of Indigeneity further confound such establishment interests. Indeed, as Stokes (2013) emphasizes, large scale societal shifts towards renewable energy may only proceed with high level political support; if government policies do not support or, better yet lead, individuals and communities to develop projects, renewable energy will remain a fringe interest, supported in principle by many, but in ← 138 | 139 → practice by few (Richards, Noble, & Belcher, 2012). This shut-down of alternative energy development in Indigenous communities raises the concern articulated by Marcuse (1965) in his theory of repressive tolerance, wherein he posits that many contemporary societies will allow a certain amount of protest and activism in order to maintain an appearance of democracy. However, he argues that, in the end, such challenges to the status quo are only allowed to go so far; most often, only superficial changes result. Non-Indigenous people’s image of what is reasonable in terms of alternative energy and Indigenous sovereignty ultimately reflects their own interests. As Bargh (2010) notes, many renewable energy projects go undeveloped because of non-Indigenous people’s outdated, romanticized, and prejudiced notions of Indigenous people’s relationships with technology.

While many members of society might support or even celebrate in principle, ad hoc development of renewable energy by Indigenous communities in Canada and elsewhere, when conversation turns to political and economic sovereignty aspects of such developments, some fall silent. I would argue that such manifestations of NIMBYism are often due to the persistent and deeply-seeded colonial structure to which we are all still subject. As Bruyneel (2007) emphasizes, many North Americans are still uncomfortable when Indigenous communities move into this Third Space of sovereignty wherein community rights are reclaimed in ways that challenge prejudicially romantic conceptions of Indigenous people and sometimes even circumvent the broader system; ongoing dependence and a modicum of success is okay, but larger scale independence that disrupts political and economic power structures is not. Likewise, as discussed below, many educators may be comfortable with technological explorations, or general policy discussions, but, as my research into the relationship between activism and education related to critical Indigenous environmental issues has revealed, some are still reticent to introduce such considerations in their courses (Lowan-Trudeau, 2017). This brings us back to Marcuse’s idea of repressive tolerance; is the system really ready for such changes? Will governments and utility giants allow Indigenous communities to continue down the path of energy sovereignty or will they be stopped somehow and kept in their place? Time will tell; however, some may choose to heed Taiake Alfred’s (2009) counsel to reclaim traditional systems of governance and living while also stepping into the future as Bruyneel suggests, regardless of colonial governmental regulations.

Outstanding questions also remain regarding how, if at all, educators in Canada and elsewhere are engaging with complex and inherently interdisciplinary sociocritical renewable energy topics such as those described above. ← 139 | 140 →

Renewable Energy Education

Renewable energy is a significantly underexplored area of pedagogical theory and practice in both STEM and environmental education in addition to other curricular settings. Given the complex and interdisciplinary sociocultural and socio-technical (Jaffar, 2015) considerations inherent in renewable energy developments described above, educators in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous contexts face great challenges in incorporating renewable energy into their praxis; in some jurisdictions such as those dominated by non-renewable energy industries, merely raising the topic of renewable energy can be a form of resistance. However, a wide range of pedagogical opportunities exist and remain to be explored through research. While the technical training required to support renewable energy development has been considered to a certain extent in the literature, its more socio-critical aspects and broader connections to social and environmental justice remain largely unexplored.

Phillip Jennings and Chris Lund (2001), two of the earlier contributors to the field, report on the development of a post-secondary energy studies program framed within an ecologically sustainable development (ESD) model and broader concerns for climate change and environmental degradation. While they link the development of their own program to market demands for skilled employees in the renewable energy sector, they also recognize the central role of educators not only in teaching technical knowledge and skills, but also in fostering the existential societal shift required to address climate change through support for, among other things, renewable energy development.

In a more recent article, Jennings (2009) acknowledges and documents an increase of renewable energy education programs worldwide, but calls for even more to support a rise in renewable energy development due to factors such as global oil depletion and concerns regarding climate change. As such, while Jennings does position renewable energy education within a broader sustainability framework and acknowledges the potential for school and community outreach, his focus is primarily on the technical, logistical, and economic aspects of such training rather than broader social, cultural, political, or ecological concerns. Jennings also anticipates the continued growth of renewable energy and suggests that formal, long-term educational programs alone will not be able to support the demand for technical expertise, highlighting a need for further professional development and in-service opportunities. Such a suggestion seems to resonate with the approach of T’Souke First Nation in Canada as described in greater detail above wherein community ← 140 | 141 → members were provided with training in situ to self-sufficiently maintain their community’s new solar installation.

Kandpal and Broman (2014) provide several recommendations for renewable energy education from K-12 and onwards such as introducing increasingly complex environmental and renewable energy related concepts through mandated curricula, experiential learning opportunities, and problem-based learning. They also state that examples of such programs in the literature are distinctly lacking as are teaching resources to support educators at all levels in this area. Kandpal and Broman also briefly discuss the importance of ‘synergy’ between energy education and environmental education, recognizing that renewable energy developments often introduce environmental concerns such as those described earlier that must be seriously considered. I would also emphasize again both the lack of opportunity for developing stronger connections and the lack of awareness of links to social and environmental justice in relation to renewable energy development.

However, many educators remain reticent to engage with renewable energy for a variety of reasons. For example, drawing on a study conducted in Greece, Liarakou et al. (2009) share the important insight that while general support for renewable energy development is high among educators, many feel under prepared to engage with both the technical and sociopolitical aspects of renewable energy education. They also argue that in-service efforts to support educators in their jurisdiction have been largely inconsistent and that the transdisciplinary nature of renewable energy education also creates complex challenges for educators as it is best engaged with through cross-curricular approaches embedded explicitly in an environmental education framework. As such, they argue that more comprehensive pre- and in-service training for teachers is required in addition to increased public outreach and education to increase the support for and confidence of educators in introducing renewable energy topics into learning contexts in meaningful ways. They also suggest that there is a lack of literature assessing teachers’ attitudes and experiences in this area so, as such, further research is required and I intend to pursue this direction of inquiry in subsequent studies.


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1 This chapter, gratefully presented here with permission from the publisher (Taylor & Francis Ltd,, is a lightly edited and reformatted version of the following publication:

Lowan-Trudeau, G. (2017). Indigenous environmental education: The case of renewable energy projects. Educational Studies: A Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, 53(6), 601–613.