Indigenous Engagement

Totem poles designed and carved by notable Indigenous carvers Wayne Carlick and James Lewis of the Tlingit/Taltan Nation, located in the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Capilano comes from the Squamish Nation’s Kia’palano, which means “beautiful river.”

BC First Nations Climate Action Data Quilt

The BC First Nations Climate Action Data Quilt is a comprehensive database and mapping tool that connects First Nations climate action initiatives in the lands colonially known as British Columbia. The Quilt includes projects such as community-wide heat pumps in Bella Bella by the Heiltsuk First Nation, solar initiatives by the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, a micro-hydro project near Port Alberni by the Hupačasath First Nation, and 300 other projects. 

To learn more about the BC First Nations Climate Action Data Quilt, click here!

Indigenous Engagement

Are you or do you know someone who is First Nations, Métis or Inuit who might like to join WE-CAN in our climate action work, contributing their perspective and collaborating with us in whatever role they would like?

We see our movement as inseparable from the movements for racial, social, and economic justice, and for Indigenous rights, so it is in our mandate to grow our collective power and build the world we need.

Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Action

A Four Part Webinar Series

Fort Nelson First Nation’s Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project

Fort Nelson First Nation’s Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project

Fort Nelson First Nation’s Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project

By Katherine Maas

On April 5, 2024, Andrea Warren and Taylor Behn-Tsakoza delivered a one-hour Lunch & Learn presentation for WE-CAN describing the Fort Nelson First Nation’s Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project. (You can view a video recording of the full presentation here.) Andrea is Tu De-Kah Geothermal’s media and communication specialist, and Taylor is its community liaison coordinator. Together with Training and Employment Coordinator Cyndi Bonn, they form the Tu Deh-Kah Team.

The Tu De-Kah Geothermal project is located in Fort Nelson, in northeast British Columbia. We typically hear of geothermal energy being used for district heating for homes and other buildings, because this is how it has been used in Canada historically, but the Tu Deh-Kah project will be using it to produce electricity. When completed, in late 2027 or early 2028, the project will provide electric power to the Fort Nelson area, which is not currently connected to the BC Hydro integrated grid.

At present, the community is largely dependent upon the North River Mid Stream Gas Plant for its electric power. The gas plant is also one of the biggest CO2 emitters in the province, so when the geothermal project goes live, it will eliminate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.


How geothermal energy works

Geothermal energy is extracted from hot magma lying miles below the earth’s surface. Most extraction occurs in areas near tectonic plate boundaries and requires access to water, as well as pathways or cracks in the subterranean rock that allow fluid to be brought to the surface. When such conditions are met, a well can be drilled, and steam is captured and used to drive the turbines that generate electricity. Geothermal energy is pollution free, and virtually limitless – the magma below the earth’s surface contains 50,000 times as much energy as all the fossil fuel energy in the world. In addition to being sustainable, geothermal is more reliable than wind or solar, which cannot be generated unless the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Geothermal works all the time.

Geothermal energy is not well explored in Canada in part because drilling is very expensive. The Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project is one of the first in the country to explore a commercial scale geothermal development. The project is located at the Clarke Lake natural gas field, where many gas wells were drilled in the late 1950s and early 1960s. While the natural gas in the wells has now been depleted, the data points on the well locations have been extremely useful in getting the geothermal project started quickly: it told them where to drill. In some cases it has also been possible to save the expense of drilling by using an existing well-head.

There are only specific pockets in the world where it is practical to extract geothermal energy for production of electricity, and the Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project happens to be sitting on one of them – they have the needed heat, water, and the porous rock needed to enable water to flow through the rock, where it is heated by magma, used to generate electricity, and then cooled to be pumped back down the well.

Details about the Tu De-Kah Geothermal Energy Project

The Tu De-Kah Project is 100% owned and run by the Fort Nelson First Nation. When the geothermal facility goes live, it will provide 7-15 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the entire Fort Nelson region. The government is very eager to see this project built, with over $50M in financial support coming from the federal and provincial governments. It is estimated a total of $100M will be required to complete the project. The Tu De-Kah will work with the Infrastructure Bank of Canada to complete the financing.

The Tu De-Kah Project is currently in phase 4 of a 7-phase project. The first 3 phases were completed quickly because of the project’s location on a depleted gas field. The design work for surface facilities is being completed by Versaidez & Associates, based out of San Francisco, and they are hoping to start the drilling phase in early to mid-2025.

Beyond providing power to the region, the project will provide job opportunities for community members, many of whom have worked in the oil and gas industry and who have been negatively impacted by the oil and gas industry downturn. A lot of the work needed to launch this geothermal project requires skills and competencies remarkably similar to those used in the oil and gas industry. The new jobs being created will be very important to the local economy.

Other exciting opportunities may also be created in the wake of the geothermal development. Tu De-Kah team envisages building commercial-sized greenhouses that will be heated by geothermal energy and that can be used to provide local, reliable produce to the community. Fort Nelson is a remote, isolated community where fresh foods can be expensive and in limited supply. Tu De-Kah team is also considering building a Japanese-style onsen (hot springs bath) spa and potentially even aquaculture.

The Tu De-Kah team wants to develop the geothermal project in a way that aligns with community culture and values. Building relationships and partnerships and educating local people about the benefits of the geothermal project has been key to the success of the project so far. It has been important to educate and engage with the community about the security the project will provide in the area. Repurposing the oil and gas assets, expertise, and workforce allows the project to get support from the community and is bringing a new sense of purpose to workers in the area.

Tlingit Homeland Energy is Powering a Sustainable Hydroelectric Future for the Tlingit First Nation in Atlin, BC

On February 23,  2024, Gary Gazankas, executive vice president – energy for Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited, delivered a one-hour lunch and learn on the Atlin Hydro Expansion Project being undertaken by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. A full video recording of this session can be found here:

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN), located in Atlin, BC, is a small remote community of about 400 people. TRTFN territory covers over 40,000 square kilometers in BC, Yukon, and Alaska and consists of varied terrain including high mountains and expansive forests, and a diversity of natural resources, including wild, salmon-filled rivers.

TRTFN has been working to develop their land in a way that ensures the preservation of their wildlife and fisheries. To combat climate change, they have set upon a renewable energy path that includes hydro generation and green hydrogen.

Electricity generation

One hundred years ago, Atlin was a self-sufficient community with its own micro hydro dam. But over the years they shifted to diesel to generate electricity, a decision they came to regret, so they are now in the process of moving back to micro hydro power.

Their diesel power plant, built in 1978, was the primary power source for Atlin, burning 1.3 million litres of diesel fuel annually. In addition to the pollution from burning this much fuel, there were significant environmental risks involved in transporting and storing diesel fuel for the plant.

Consequently, TRTFN decided to replace the diesel plan by returning to hydro generation. In 2009, they built a 2.0 MW hydro generating facility, large enough to supply their entire community with electricity. This plant eliminated the generation of about 4,000 tonnes of GHGs annually, which will amount to 120,000 tonnes of GHGs over the next 20-25 years. What they learned through this experience has positioned them as experts in Indigenous clean energy generation.

Today they are planning a second hydro facility, a 9 MW hydro-electric plant to be located on Pine Creek and Sunrise Lake near Atlin, which will be directly connected to the Yukon power grid. This plant will remove 360 million litres of diesel from the road, and prevent the release of over a million tonnes of GHGs over 40 years. It will also substantially reduce southern Yukon’s reliance on non-renewable energy each winter.

The project is being developed with environmental monitoring and stewardship that will help ensure the preservation of the Surprise Lake ecosystem and ensure there are no unintended impacts. At the same time, it will serve to educate a new generation about the unique gifts their land provides.

Green hydrogen

TRTFN is also putting together a pilot project to use excess hydro-electric power to produce green hydrogen. Renewable electricity will be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be used to power hydrogen-powered vehicles. These run comparably to gasoline-powered cars, including being quick to refuel and with a range of 700 km.

How the community benefits from these projects

Locally generating renewable energy enhances the resilience of First Nations communities by reducing dependence on external suppliers, increasing self-sufficiency, and enabling communities to withstand and recover from adverse conditions. 

These projects will create new permanent, quality jobs that will provide stable employment for 4 to 6 people over the next four decades. In addition, during the construction years, they will attract to the area experienced builders and contractors, who will provide skills training and transferable work experience for more than 170 community members. They will also create opportunities for local businesses, because workers will need to be fed and housed. 

Moreover, it’s expected that the power plant will grow Atlin’s tax base, contributing over $150,000 annually in property taxes, which can be used improve the region’s school and other community programs.

What TRTFN learned from these projects

TRTFN learned a great deal from undertaking these projects —  learning they hope to share to enable other First Nations and remote communities to make similar improvements. Clearly defining at the outset what to work on is the first step. Then, obtaining community support as early as possible in the process is critical to success. Getting funding is also essential, but they emphasize starting small to gain experience. Once expertise has been gained, expansion is easier. For more information, contact Gary Gazankas,

Tlingit First Nation canoe

Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Action

This webinar was the second of a four-part series, hosted in partnership with RAVEN, in which Indigenous climate action leaders in BC have shared their thoughts and experiences. In this webinar, we got to hear from guest speakers
Pansy Wright-Simms, a member of the Luutkudziiwus, a traditional “wilp,” or house group, of the Gitxsan Nation, and Leona Humchitt, Councillor, and Climate Action Coordinator of the Heiltsuk Nation.

Busting the Fossil Fuel Corridor

This was the first of four webinars, hosted in partnership with RAVEN, on Indigenous perspectives on climate action.  In this webinar, we got to hear from Rueben George, and Chiefs Smogelgem and Roland Willson about their resistance in the face of TMX, Coastal GasLink, and Site C-Dam.

Sifting through the woefully inadequate “CleanBC Roadmap to 2030” released ahead of COP26, it appeared that B.C.’s plan was to force through infrastructure for long-term fossil fuel projects, over the objections of First Nations and in violation of treaty and Aboriginal rights.