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‘Literally taking back power’ — in cinematic fashion

In our latest newsletter, we take a glimpse into how an Indigenous-owned energy company turned a dream into reality
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Photo of Ed Chilton kissing the first transmission line pole at James Bay
“Why haven’t I heard this story before?”

That was the question reporter Fatima Syed asked Patrick Chilton, the CEO of Five Nations Energy, after he told a crowd how a group of five First Nations brought clean electricity to the James Bay coastline in northern Ontario. 

“The idea that an Indigenous community was literally taking back power,” Fatima thought, “should be a global story, a movie!”

For the better part of a century, making a piece of toast and a cup of tea at the same time was a delicate decision for members of the Attawapiskat, Kashechewan and Fort Albany First Nations.

In the ‘90s, Ed Chilton, Patrick’s late brother, dreamed of a transmission line that would finally bring uninterrupted power to the region — like in the southern part of the province. When that dream turned into a 270-kilometre-long reality, he hugged and kissed the first pole that broke the very swampy ground in 2000. 
 
Map of the James Bay Transmission line
Getting the line built was no easy feat. Before now-dismantled Ontario Hydro hopped on board, one of its senior members told Five Nations — the only entirely Indigenous-owned energy company in Canada — “you’ll build that line over my dead body,” Patrick recalled.

The challenges didn’t end there, but Five Nations’ leadership didn’t take no for an answer — they heard 37 ‘no’s, to be precise — and finally plugged the region into the grid.

“Ontario loves the clean power we get from the grid. But in the south we never think about how the grid doesn’t reach every corner of the province,” Fatima told me.

“We just take it for granted.”

The founders of Five Nations Energy didn’t. They powered through to get reliable, safe electricity and dump those old, noisy diesel generators. Now, the sounds of birds breathe new life into the community again.

As First Nations-led energy projects pick up steam across the country, the non-profit has become a benchmark for community-based solutions — as it continues to invest profits back into the region and looks to a future with energy sovereignty, generating its own power as cleanly as possible

Patrick was kind enough to give Fatima a peek at his yet-to-be-published book that chronicles the rather cinematic tale: a silent hero with a vision, outspoken chiefs who fight for a community ignored by the government and an undying love for clean energy. Go read Fatima’s feature before it actually turns into a movie.

Take care and don’t take the grid for granted,

Karan Saxena
Audience fellow

 

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