Doctor of Philosophy
Environment and Sustainability
The unique histories of Indigenous communities are routinely overlooked in the social acceptance and energy transition literatures, but attention is warranted in settler countries like Canada seeking to improve relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens. Parallel to this journey called reconciliation, Canada embarked on an energy transition with Indigenous communities taking a leading role. Prompted by the example of M’Chigeeng First Nation, sole owner, and operator of two 2 MW-wind turbines selling energy in Ontario since 2012, this thesis weaves qualitative and quantitative methods through three intersecting studies to investigate how the 2400-member community perceives their turbines. Studies 1 and 2 are a case study and result from five years of research partnership with M’Chigeeng First Nation. Study 1 unpacks 32 interviews to show that the support for the turbines contrasts with concerns about communication deficit yet is tempered by the pride resulting from owning the turbines. A survey built from interview findings, Study 2 (n=161), confirms that most members on and off-reserve share a positive attitude towards the turbines yet are dissatisfied with past and current levels of project communication, including about benefits. Study 2 also signals the importance of human-to-human and human-to-land relationships for members. Looking beyond M’Chigeeng, Study 3 shows that discourses connecting energy transition and reconciliation between 2007 and 2018 mainly originated from non-Indigenous voices, often miscasting key Indigenous concerns for autonomy. In addition to practical contributions to M’Chigeeng First Nation in the form of a report and an animated video summarizing the findings, this work enriches the Eurocentric literatures on social acceptance and energy transition with insights from Indigenous political ecology and attention to iii restorative justice. I argue that failure to attend to colonial legacies in this energy transition bears the risk of reproducing the socio-economic inequalities of the fossil fuel era in a different arrangement of carbon molecules
Summary for Lay Audience
My study brings attention to Indigenous communities in the energy sector, focusing on the Canadian context where reconciliation and energy transition are important political topics. Reconciliation is defined as the improvement of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. An energy transition is about transforming the systems that produce and distribute energy in society. The current energy transition, dictated by the climate crisis, involves expanding the use of renewable energy, which in many cases causes opposition in communities asked to host energy technologies like wind turbines. Many social science researchers in Europe and North America analyze communities’ responses and energy transitions but very few examine the case of Indigenous communities. Prompted by the example of M’Chigeeng First Nation, sole owner and operator of two wind turbines in Ontario since 2012, my study examines how M’Chigeeng members perceive their project and what it means in the Canadian context. I captured members’ attitude towards their wind turbines through 32 interviews and a survey (161 respondents). I found both a majority positive attitude among members living on and off-reserve and concerns about lack of communication about aspects of the project, from ownership aspects to benefits. However, owning the turbines is cause of great pride. The study also shows the importance of relationships between members and the land in a manner that is distinct from what the mainstream social acceptance research describes as place attachment. To connect M’Chigeeng project to the national context, I also examined publications on energy and reconciliation from federal and provincial energy policy documents and news media from Indigenous and non-Indigenous sources between 2007 and 2018. I found that the increasing number of publications connecting energy transition to reconciliation mainly originated from non-Indigenous voices and often misrepresented key Indigenous concerns of autonomy and healing from colonial harms. This research suggests that failure to attend to colonial legacies in this energy transition bears the risk of reproducing the socio-economic inequalities of the fossil fuel era. It is essential to better understand how the energy transition can contribute to the goal of reconciliation by bringing forward dimensions of justice and alternatives to colonial worldviews.
Mang-Benza, Carelle P., "Land, wind, and power in M’Chigeeng First Nation: Perceptions of Indigenous-owned community energy in the Canadian context of low-carbon transition and reconciliation" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8817.
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Available for download on Thursday, August 31, 2023