THE T'SOU-KE NATION: A LEADER IN SUSTAINABILITY
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By Michelle Moore
Located on the southern point of Vancouver Island, the TíSou-ke Nation is leading the way towards a sustainable future. The community of 225 members became Canadaís first Aboriginal solar community in 2008. Since then numerous initiatives have followed, including a solar powered electric car charge station and a 72-hectare oyster farm; all of which has led to them becoming a burgeoning Ecotourism destination.
It all began in 2007 with the conception of a 75 kWh solar micro grid project. Now they have a total of 440 solar panels throughout the entire community. A 6 kWh solar system sits on the roof of the Fisheries and Special Projects building, and a 7 kWh on the community hall rooftop. The largest grouping of solar panels amounting to 62 kWh sits on the communityís canoe shed.
In addition, almost half of the communityís houses have solar hot water. About one year after that installation, they added an electric car charge station which can also run on solar power. It was important to them to integrate Indigenous culture with renewable energy; local artist Marc Gautti was brought in to etch a Coast Salish design on one of the large panels. Gautti also helped form the TíSou-ke Nation Smart Energy Group created to help promote renewable energy.
Chief Gordon Planes explained that the project was a transparent, community driven process. He said "what came out of the vision in progress is we want to do something for our children, and our children not born yet." The community runs a visitors centre at its TíSou-ke Centre for Sustainable Living that focuses on four pillars; energy self-reliance, food security, cultural renaissance and economic development.
Their ďlight-foot approach" has them looking 100 years into the future, which Chief Planes recognizes can be difficult, but he says it comes out of a need "to leave something for our future generations to grab ahold of, and thatís what we are doing, we are setting the table for them.Ē The hope is that other communities will follow suit, especially off grid communities in the north that rely on diesel fuel generators for electricity.
Chief Planesí environmental efforts go farther than his community; he sits on many environmental and renewable energy committees including British Columbiaís Climate Action Committee, Indigenous Climate Action, and the Indigenous Circle of Experts: Pathway to Canada Target 1, whose goal is to have 17% of terrestrial and inland water and 10% of coastal and marine areas protected by 2020.
In 2013, the TíSou-ke Nation was awarded the title of a Canadian Solar City, making it one of four, and the first Aboriginal community to be on the list. The Canadian Solar City Project is a non-profit created to recognize and support Canadian cities that are harnessing the power of the sun. To commemorate the achievement Chief Planes was presented a brass sun-dial created in a solar furnace at the Lunenburg Foundry in Nova Scotia.
Project Manager Andrew Moore joined the TíSou-ke Nation in 2007 to assist with the solar project. He said that all the administrative buildings for the band were meant to be net zero, but in fact turned out to be net positive, which means they are able to sell electricity back to the British Columbia power grid. He said that they "donít anticipate paying any electricity costs for the next 60 years", adding that their community is the most solar intensive in Canada.
Moore explained the need to raise awareness about energy consumption as the first step, saying that "your money goes 10 times as far in reducing energy as it does in producing it." He said that as part of their project they brought in low flow shower heads, compact fluorescent lightbulbs and insulated homes and water pipes.
More recently, the community has added four 35-by-150-foot greenhouses to grow organic wasabi to be sold in Canada and abroad. Moore said that wasabi was a good choice because it requires low capital and has a high return. He said they started the project about 3 years ago, and that the first harvest covered itís costs and the cost of the greenhouse building.
They plan to expand the community garden, the Ladybug Garden and Greenhouse; which has something growing all year round. What started with a few people gathering food became a space to learn. The many workshops teach what foods are readily available in the region, how to plant and grow fruits and vegetables, cut and clean your own meat, and use plants for traditional medicines.
In the near future, they hope to work with the blue cayman potato which grows in the mountains. The greenhouse has popular youth outings where children are taught how to gather and prepare food that grows naturally in the region like honeysuckle flowers, nodding onion and chives.
Moore could see the latest harvest of 4 million champagne oysters being brought in from the Sooke Basin as we spoke on the phone. Soon they hope to turn their focus towards the Olympic Oyster which is considered to be an at-risk species. They are also working toward increasing the number of oysters to a total of 32 million.
Chief Planes emphasized the need to be less reliant on fossil fuels for bringing in food and energy, saying "those are the kinds of things in the future that we see as a way to lessen the burden on the environment and mother earth. Those teachings handed down are so important and make our children well rounded and having that indigenous context strikes the balance."
Additional projects in that same vein are already being considered. In 2013 the TíSou-ke Nation partnered with TimberWest and EDPR Canada to build a large scale wind project on southern Vancouver Island. Though the project has since been put on hold, Moore hopes it will be revived specifying that for now most of Vancouver Islandís electricity comes from 500 miles away on the mainland. The community is also in the conceptual stage of planing a wave energy project.
Just recently the community has partnered with CleanTech Community Gateway to develop housing solutions for First Nation communities across British Columbia. The TíSou-ke Nation will be leading the project with the purpose of testing technologies for energy efficient homes and capacity building with communities who will be participating.
The TíSou-ke Nation was able to achieve their vision of a sustainable community in part through the Comprehensive Community Planning Program in British Columbia. According to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, "since 2004, more than 80 First Nations communities in British Columbia have completed comprehensive community plans." Other funding came through sources like the Clean Energy Fund, Solar British Columbia and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Throughout each project, a great emphasis was placed on training for community members. For instance, the solar training was mostly verbal, using story telling techniques, and even a First Nations comedian was called in to speak. Moore explained that all their projects include training and mentorship, he said "when we did the solar, they trained and employed 12 people, similar to the greenhouse and the oysters; we have someone whose training a group of youngsters how to do it."
All of this has made the community an Ecotourism destination. Just this year, TíSou-ke has had 32 schools, 54 municipalities and tourists from all over the world visit. Chief Planes said that people come
"wanting to know our story and be a part of something that hits home for all of us. We were able to engage with universities, colleges, schools, and countries around the world; over 2000 people visited us last year."
Moore expressed that this was quite unexpected, saying "we had no idea when we did the project that this would develop." He says they receive people from many First Nations communities that travel from northern Manitoba and northern Ontario where they rely heavily if not completely on diesel fuel for electricity. He said "we had six chiefs come from northern Manitoba where they pay $2/kWh of electricity compared to our 10cents/kWh." The discrepancy in cost comes from the way power is produced as well as the transport costs.
Chief Planes said they do not charge for the tours, they just hope their community can serve as a model for others. He said "a healthy environment means a healthy community and I think that something we are all working for." Moore echoed the sentiment saying that in addition to the new visitors, at least twenty different television companies have come in for interviews which he says members are very happy about, adding that it has given people confidence. Moore said they had the whole BC Ministry of Energy and Mines come in where youngsters gave them a workshop on conservation.
The community has lead many workshops with university groups including a big program with McGill and Queens University. Moore said there are about "half a dozen large programs running right now, they all come in for tours and workshops," adding that there were people from 10 different universities present at one workshop. Though Moore says itís also really important to raise awareness in children, who he says are quite receptive. The TíSou-ke Centre for Sustainable Living regularly receives classes from primary schools and groups like the Girl Guides.
One visit from Colwood Councillor Judith Cullington lead to a partnership with the TíSou-ke nation to enable 1000 homes in Colwood to have solar thermal energy. A $4 million grant from Natural Resources Canada provided the funds for the project as well as the highest grade of training in solar technology for community members.
Chief Planes mused "when I was growing up I never knew about global warmingÖthey would say weíll never run out of logs, and they ran out of logs. Then they said weíll never run out of fish, and they ran out of fish." He said that if we "work toward legacy I truly believe that we can always make sure that there is something there for the future generation."
Moore stressed that renewable energy options like solar are more accessible now than ever saying "the cost of solar has gone down 80% since we did our project. Now is the time to get engaged and start using it."