Edison Energy recently sat down with Jordyn Burnouf, an Adviser to the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan who also serves as Chair of the Seven Gen Indigenous Youth Council and Efficiency Canada’s Governing Council. Burnouf was recently awarded Saskatchewan’s Women of Distinction Award for her work as a volunteer, community builder, and youth mentor. She is a founding member of the non-profit organization SaskATF, which supports youth participation in sports.
On December 14, Jordyn will be speaking at our Impact RoundTable discussion exploring how partnerships with Native communities present increasing opportunities for both the private and public sectors to create meaningful impact. Click here to register.
The Metis village of Île-à-la-Crosse in northwestern Saskatchewan sits at the end of a 12-mile-long peninsula on the western shore of Lac Île-à-la-Crosse. The village, whose name is Cree for “the place where the river flows out,” lies at the entryway to the English River District–the site of trading posts first established in the late 18th century. The area became an important route for traders and the hub of Canada’s first economy—the fur trade.
This commerce helped shape the Metis community of Île-à-la-Crosse through the personal and business relationships formed between Indigenous inhabitants and European traders. Today, most living in the village are Métis, descendants of French, Scottish, Scandinavian, Cree, and Denesuline settlers.
Jordyn Burnouf is a member of the Black Lake First Nation and grew up in Île-à-la-Crosse. Her great grandfather, a missionary from France, moved to Saskatoon–Saskatchewan’s largest city–to establish a church. He eventually left the church to start a family.
“I am First Nation, but I grew up Metis for the most part on both sides,” Burnouf said. “On my dad’s side are the people of the land, the bush people. On my mom’s side there were medicine women and trappers, hunters, and fishermen. That environmental side plays into my work. I grew up out in the bush, picking berries, watching my grandparents tan moose hides, and smoke fish and moose, so that kind of influenced this natural love for the environment.”
Her childhood experiences led Burnouf on a mission to empower and advocate for Indigenous people within the clean energy space.
Today, she is deeply involved in clean energy initiatives, with a focus on youth, women, and land-based rights. As a member of Indigenous Clean Energy’s (ICE) Board of Directors, Burnouf advocates for youth and women in Canada’s energy sector, also addressing Indigenous housing and energy needs via her participation in national initiative ‘Bringing it Home.’
“I like to talk about my story because it gives people a really interesting visual about all of the different influences that come together to create Metis and Indigenous communities and the differences in indigeneity that we see across Canada,” she said.
The exploitation of First Nations
Northern Saskatchewan is home to the largest high-grade uranium deposits in the world and a quarter of the global uranium supply for electrical generation. The region is also a magnet for miners, who have come from all over the world to take advantage of the area’s rich uranium resources.
These mining operations have displaced populations from their homes and communities due to significant environmental impacts including the contamination of ground water with dissolved metals and radioactive materials, dispersal of radioactive dust, and releases of radioactive gas into the air. When uranium ore is processed, 85 percent of the radioactivity is left behind in the tailings and must be managed safely for hundreds of thousands of years, according to The Council of Canadians.
This has made it impossible for many Indigenous communities to return to their homes.
“Our communities were definitely exposed and exploited for that industry, and it still happens today,” Burnouf said. “There’s a lack of consultation and engagement with communities and a lack of equity ownership in these projects. The environmental impact is just so tremendous that nobody really knows the scale at which it could impact people and that environment in both the short and long term.”
But the mines have also been a longstanding economic driver for the local Metis community in Île-à-la-Crosse as one of the town’s largest employers.
Then came the layoff.
“About 700 people were laid off–that’s 700 families,” Burnouf said. “When that hit, I was in disbelief about the impact that could have. I was already interested in the energy sector, but that was definitely a driver because you see how energy impacts everything. It’s not just something that translates into economics; it impacts everything socially, politically, and environmentally.”
Clean energy as a means to equity and autonomy
Burnouf sought to turn the negative impacts the energy sector had meted out on her community into something positive. This meant flipping the script, engaging with community members, and introducing them to the benefits that the clean energy transition had to offer.
“I saw an opportunity to be able to change the scene for people in northern Saskatchewan,” she said. “There have been so many socio-economic impacts–alcohol addiction, suicide, and drug abuse. I saw the amount of money going into communities just to keep them afloat. It’s not even about prospering–it’s about surviving. And that made me very uncomfortable. I have the ability to speak about certain things and to pull people together, so I tried to find an avenue to do that. I found space in the energy sector.”
Burnouf focuses on the issues of consultation, equity, and ownership, as well as educating and introducing communities to the opportunities offered by renewable energy as an alternative to uranium.
Some of this work is accomplished through her role as Chair of the SevenGen Indigenous Youth Council, where she mentors and helps mobilize Indigenous youth.
“I want them to feel like there’s a place for them in the clean energy sector, whether or not they fully understand what they want to do,” she said. “It’s just providing them with an equitable pathway for them to see their place. If they can see me standing on the stage as an Indigenous woman, then they feel that maybe that’s something that they can accomplish too. Boardrooms are made up of predominantly white males and we want to start changing that narrative and including young people and women and BIPOC people in that.”
In her role as a 20/20 Indigenous Clean Energy Catalyst, Burnouf help provide practical and applied learning about renewable energy projects, community energy planning, energy efficiency and conservation, and business management. She’s also working to improve foundational systems and processes, and equipping people with the tools they need to take part in the energy sector.
“It’s a system not built for Indigenous people,” she said. “The history of environmental racism in Canada is very real. Now how do we work to dismantle these systems while still having a functioning society? We’ve got to look at the power and control that is associated with energy. Are companies able to admit fault for what’s happened historically? That’s what reconciliation is. But what are the actions behind it now? It’s all a part of a power transfer, which is a hard thing. And it’s not only recognition from industry and government—it’s recognition from our own people to say, ‘this is our country, this is our land, this is a way forward that we need to start thinking more seriously about.’”
The clean energy transition has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Indigenous people, and Burnouf is starting to see a major shift. Indigenous people are becoming property owners, while communities, once in survival mode, are now thriving as they increasingly take advantage of renewable energy opportunities.
“It’s such a cohesive match because we as a people are just inherently connected to the land,” Burnouf said. “When you look at Indigenous people and all their systems, you think of conservation. The way I’ve been taught is that when you’re working on the land and its resources, you only take what you need. We need to start thinking about how we start to do that and contribute back to Mother Earth who we’ve taken so much from. I think when you’re thoughtful about looking at Indigenous peoples’ place in renewables, those Indigenous knowledge systems around conservation are things that we can build our systems and our future on.”
Check out additional conversations with leading experts from across the industry in our Visionary Voices: Perspectives in Energy Series.
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