Haíɫzaqv Nation climate justice leaders, opportunity to invest in real climate action
Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Team pictured in the Gvúkva'áus Haíłzaqv (House of the Heiltsuk) at a community feast they hosted to celebrate "lṇts h̓ákq̓ṃ’ila wáx̌a" (we have all agreed) on the Haíɫzaqv Community Energy Plan.
Extraordinary work is being done by Haíɫzaqv Nation to advance climate action and decarbonize their community.
Ayla Brown, Councillor on the Haíɫzaqv Tribal Council and Clean Energy Advisor for the Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Team, describes her community as “determined, committed, and capable of committing net-zero.” In her community, climate action is an inevitability.
Haíɫzaqv (also Heiltsuk) Nation is located on the central west coast of British Columbia. They have a growing population of 2,414, with 1,600 living in their largest community, WágỊísỊa (also Bella Bella). Despite being small in size and remote, the community deserves being showcased as a true leader in climate justice.
The Haíɫzaqv Nation Climate Action team engaged their community on climate change and found that they were going through a great deal of climate grief. As land based people, they are on the front lines of climate change, facing significant impacts from seasonal disruptions and ecosystem damage. They also found that community members were dissatisfied with how they were living on their lands. Burning diesel and living in inefficient homes went against Haíɫzaqv values.
Brown told me about how housing has changed for her people over time. For thousands of years, Haíɫzaqv people lived on their homelands in healthy homes. Colonization disrupted this through forced removal and relocation into inadequate housing supplied by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. This was an attempt by Canada to assimilate Haíɫzaqv people into Canadian nuclear families. Housing degraded over the years as the Heiltsuk Tribal Council were unable to maintain the buildings due to staggering under-funding by the Government of Canada.
Today, this translates into energy bills four to five the provincial average, 5,235 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year, and a community living out of alignment with their values due to the Canadian colonial reality. So, the Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Team and their community identified increasing the energy efficiency of their homes and getting off diesel as high priorities.
Presenting on Transforming Home Heating in Haíɫzaqv Homelands at the Pembina Institute’s Renewables in Remote Communities Conference, Brown identified their carbon footprint as “ridiculous” and “completely out of alignment with who we are as Haíɫzaqv people”. Critical to their energy transition has been, as Brown explains, “bringing our lives–the way that we were living and interacting with the world–back into alignment with Haíɫzaqv values [...] The gifts of the Creator–wind, water, solar–have always fueled and allowed us to live in our place. [This is using the gifts of the Creator] to live in healthy, comfortable homes.” Burning 255,000 litres of fossil fuels a year to heat their homes went against their responsibility to take care of the land for future generations.
The Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Team identified heat pumps as the best solution to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, lower heating bills, and bring their lives back into alignment with Haíɫzaqv values. For every home they switch to heat pumps, they eliminate five annual tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and reduce heating costs by $2,500 per year. And, as Brown further presents, “in a community where the average income is $21,000 in a year, this is massive […] and has vastly improved the lives of the people that live in these homes.”
Yvonne Lawson with her new home energy system, "I love this heat pump. In the winter, it keeps me nice and warm, and in the summer the air conditioning keeps me nice and cool, especially during the heat wave. It's a good investment that our band had made for us."
Installing heat pumps did more than lower energy bills. Because they had heat pumps, indoor air quality also increased in the homes: “we had kids who weren’t having as many asthma attacks,” Brown states. Speaking in a video produced by Ecotrust Canada, a key partner in their project, Bella Bella resident Susan Paul says, “for the kids, since we got this new heat pump, the cough is gone, their runny nose is gone.” The community also saves money by having to ship in less fuel, which can only be done by barge. They created local jobs, training their own community members in installation and maintenance. By the end of this summer, they will have installed over 270 heat pumps.
They have secured $5 million dollars and will be able to convert 95% of homes in Bella Bella to heat pumps, with the rest heated by wood. Once completed, they will have reduced their communities’ greenhouse gas emissions by 60%.
Brown concluded her presentation at the conference by highlighting that this is bringing their lives back into alignment with their values, and stated that “this is decolonization work.”
Photo from Haíɫzaqv Climate Action community feast.
The Haíɫzaqv Community Energy Plan is ambitious and Canada, British Columbia, and Canadians need to step up to support this work. They have a well-detailed plan to advance climate solutions in their community but are seeking funders to fill the $58 million gap. With external support, they plan to advance energy sovereignty by developing hydrogen and solar projects, as well as reclaim Ocean Falls–the dam that operates on their land and is owned and operated by BC Hydro. They also aim to electrify transportation within their community and their marine vessels.
Settlers owe Indigenous Peoples a climate debt. As land based people, Haíɫzaqv Nation faces the immediate and disproportionate effects of climate change but they are not the ones who causing it. Which is why Canada, British Columbia, businesses, and settlers need step up and compensate communities like the Haíɫzaqv Nation.
Brown emphasized that investing in their climate action plan is an opportunity. Invest in the Haíɫzaqv Nation so they can share real and immediate pathways to net zero, so they can showcase climate justice and Haíɫzaqv values of caring for the future.
Because of the legacies of colonialism and its injustices, the Haíɫzaqv Nation are at an economic disadvantage, which is why they need funders. As the beneficiaries of colonization, it is the responsibility of settlers–as individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments–to use their advantage and support Indigenous economic development and climate action.
Anyone interested in supporting this work is encouraged to contact the Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Team at email@example.com or through their website www.heiltsukclimateaction.ca.
To learn more about the work the Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Team is doing, check out their recent presentation at the Pembina Institute’s Renewables in Remote Communities Conference. You can see the team in two separate talks: Reclaiming Energy Sovereignty: Clean Energy Solutions for the Haíɫzaqv and Transforming Home Heating in Haíɫzaqv Homelands.
Articles on the PBC website reflect the views of the author and not necessarily those of PBC.
Raidin Blue is a summer technical writer for PBC. He earned his MES at York University and B.Sc.Hon. from the University of Saskatchewan.
Photos provided by the Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Team.