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Indigenous communities in British Columbia face a number of unique challenges related to housing and energy use that cause or exacerbate other social, economic, and environmental issues on reserves. With limited access to affordable fuel for these remote communities, coupled with poor quality housing, the proportion of household income needed to adequately heat their homes is significantly higher than the average BC resident.

Graham Anderson, our Energy Program Manager, shares more about the issue of energy poverty and his recent work to help find solutions.

Energy poverty has significant impacts

Early on in my work at Ecotrust Canada, I picked up an elderly hitchhiker from one of the remote Indigenous communities I was working with in the Interior of BC. On the ride, he told me the purpose for his trip – he was going into Lillooet to pay his BC Hydro bill, which was over $1,000 for just two months of electricity. He had usually heated his home with wood in the winter, but was sick this year and primarily relied on electric heaters instead. At the time I was shocked to hear about such a high electricity bill for a home with electric heat. Unfortunately, in the years since that encounter, I’ve learned that this experience is all-too-common in BC’s remote Indigenous communities.

Only about 40% of people living on-reserve in BC have access to natural gas to heat their homes – compared to 95% of other BC residents. This lack of access results in Indigenous communities having to transport more expensive fuels such as diesel or oil into their towns, increasing the heating cost for individual households who may already be struggling to make ends meet financially.

With this limited access to affordable fuels, low quality housing and, in some cases, no access to grid electricity, a typical on-reserve household is estimated to spend three times as much of their income* as the median Canadian household on meeting their basic energy needs. These excessively high energy costs exacerbate the social distress and impact of poverty on people, while inadequate heating systems lead to negative health impacts due to lower air quality and mold.


Heating efficiency solutions are available

We’ve seen that energy efficiency retrofits to home heating systems can really help families switch to cleaner fuels and dramatically reduce their energy costs. If done in partnership with Indigenous communities, these retrofits can also create new training and employment opportunities for local residents, as well as addressing their longstanding health, social, and environmental challenges.

Earlier this year, we worked in partnership with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council in Bella Bella, BC, to install heat pumps in twenty community homes. The heat pumps work like an air conditioner in reverse, collecting warmth out of the air and bringing it inside the home, typically using one third of the energy used to create the same heat by a furnace. The results of this pilot were impressive, saving about $300/month on average for the impacted residents. We were also very pleased to see community members trained and employed in installing and maintaining the new systems, creating new opportunities for local people and building local capacity to support the new equipment.


Barriers exist to taking solutions to scale

While clean energy solutions are available, unfortunately they are not happening at scale across Indigenous communities due to barriers to financing, vastly insufficient funding programs, and capacity constraints within communities.
So throughout 2018, we’ve been undertaking a program of research, exploration, and convening in order to gain a deeper understanding of the barriers in place, explore solutions that have been developed in other parts of Canada and the rest of the world, and validate the appropriateness of these solutions to the realities faced by Indigenous communities in BC.
I’m especially looking forward to planning a convening event with community leaders and policymakers in the coming months, to directly engage about the most appropriate solutions to the problem of energy poverty on reserves.

* This figure was estimated by Ecotrust Canada based on available data and project-based knowledge of typical community experiences. There are a wide range of household experiences and this estimate is intended to reflect a reasonable average.



September 5th marks the International Day of Charity – established by the United Nations to recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. This day creates a time for us all to reflect and mobilize around how we voluntarily give our money, goods or time to those in need, either directly or by means of a charitable organization.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who make donations, big and small, in support of our vision of people and nature thriving together. At Ecotrust Canada, we are firm believers that the solutions to poverty lie in a hands-together approach, so that communities are equipped with the tools they need to create widespread prosperity. That means creating opportunities for meaningful work and prosperous livelihoods while also ensuring the health of our environment is sustained.

This short video shows the impact of one of our most recent projects, tackling housing and energy in partnership with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, in the remote community of Bella Bella, BC. The results are impressive – reduced heating costs, improved air quality in their homes, and better health for their children.

If you believe in our vision, please consider a one-time or monthly donation to help us continue our vital work. Our Board of Directors has kindly committed to matching any new donations made during the month of September, up to a limit of $10,000 – doubling the impact of your money!

From coast to coast to coast, our work helps to transform communities into vibrant, sustainable and interconnected hubs of health, justice and security. It couldn’t happen without your support.

Thank you.


The standard model of housing on reserves is failing Indigenous communities, where a system of poorly built homes has resulted in overcrowding, disrepair, health issues and cultural degradation. A growing Indigenous population with a real need for a new approach to housing requires a reformulation of this problem and innovation in how housing is conceived, designed, planned and constructed.

Anthony Persaud, our lead researcher on Ecotrust Canadas Housing and Energy Initiative, shares his thoughts on his recent work to create a housing assessment framework as a tool for communities seeking to transform their housing systems to maximize local economic, social and cultural benefits for their communities.

Learning from communities

Housing projects offer incredible potential to achieve sustainable and equitable economic development, create meaningful livelihoods, and enhance individual well-being and cultural resilience in Indigenous communities. Developing the Framework for Assessing Community Housing Systems has been a major learning process. It’s a great example of how an initiative with a broad, national scope can be effectively informed and designed in its early stages with community input and participation.

In April of this year, Satnam Manhas, Ecotrust Canada’s Director of Forestry and myself set off on a BC-wide roadtrip to discuss housing with communities. We spoke with First Nation bands, National governments, Indigenous economic development corporations, forestry practitioners, and many others with both direct and indirect connections to housing. Our goal was to build awareness around this approach, strengthen partnerships, and to receive input from communities on the development of the Framework. The trip included thousands of kilometres of driving, an unexpected lunch of sea lion meat, a sit in a traditional pit-house style sweat lodge, and a dip in the Aiyansh hot springs in the stunning Nisga’a valley.

Tackling a housing crisis

The Framework was always considered an important part of the development of the Housing and Energy Initiative, but it wasn’t until we started visiting and speaking with communities specifically about this work that we realized just how important this initial activity really was.

Indigenous communities across Canada are simply overwhelmed by the housing crisis that they face, leaving little time or resources to look at the broader picture of housing and its connections to other processes occurring within and beyond their communities. All of the leaders that we spoke with realized the need for a different approach, but putting that need into action is a major challenge. The Framework we’ve developed achieves a first step, providing practical resources and information to help them assess their readiness for a self-determined housing system.

Building culturally inspired homes

There are many examples of Indigenous communities that are taking the lead on transforming housing, and we hope to build upon those examples moving forward. The cultural resiliency of Indigenous peoples is what has allowed them to remain and grow as distinct First Nations today despite 200 years of colonial policies aimed toward erasing such identities. The transformation of the Indigenous home succeeded in destroying the traditional domestic spaces of Indigenous peoples physically, but never in essence.

This indicates that solutions to the First Nation housing crisis in Canada must be built upon the cultural values and development visions of indigenous peoples themselves. With this approach, communities can build dignified, culturally inspired and sustainable housing in a way that also helps them build more resilient, thriving communities.


Our North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL) in Prince Rupert is bringing people together to try out new ways of creating lasting, positive change for both the economic and social systems of the community. The NCIL is focusing its first year on a small number of projects that already have some support or momentum in the community, but would benefit from new networks, additional human capacity, research, coordination and/or business thinking.

Project Co-ordinator Kara Herbert is a student in the Masters of Public Policy program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, doing an internship for the summer of 2018. Here she shares her work as part of the NCIL team, focusing on ways to enhance co-working, information sharing, and resource sharing in Prince Rupert.

Different groups have different needs

Our community engagement efforts highlighted that supporting entrepreneurs, which include home-based businesses and micro businesses, can be a powerful tool for economic resiliency and community well-being.

We’ve seen that there are many existing and thriving entrepreneurial training and educational programs in Prince Rupert, hinting at an emerging entrepreneurial spirit. However, it is also clear that there is a need for additional support, networks, and resources for individuals who complete these programs, so they don’t have to overcome the common challenges of starting a business by themselves.

The needs differ across different groups. The artistic community has expressed the need for professional development – workshops, business planning, online marketing, and connections to existing programs in order to grow. Some have also been interested in sharing resources such as studio space or certain tools.

The professional and online services community identified similar professional development needs, but also want a physical space to work from to bring about collaboration and networking opportunities. Many have used co-working spaces or incubators in other areas in BC and are seeing the need for one in Prince Rupert.

Solution-building with the community

Now that I have a base understanding of some of the needs here, I’m looking to the Project Advisory Committee and other community members to help craft what kind of initiative makes sense and may best benefit all kinds of entrepreneurs.

Building on this, we want to undertake a small pilot before the summer ends, and then have some more detailed aspects of a potential shared working space ironed out with concrete recommendations at the end of the summer.

It’s been amazing to approach this issue from the bottom up and co-create solutions with the community. And in working to build the foundation of this social innovation lab, I’ve found it so important to really embrace the uncertainty that comes along with an approach such as this. I think there will be many important lessons learned and knowledge shared as a result.

A welcoming place

Even though I’m only living in Prince Rupert for the summer, I’ve really been welcomed with open arms – there is a great sense of community here. I was born and raised in BC, and this is the first time I’ve gotten to explore the North. So, on weekends, we’ve been adventuring to surrounding glaciers, lava beds, towns, and islands – and spending weeknights playing baseball or paddling in the outrigger. It’s been a great experience living here, and I would encourage other young people to try it out too.



Our North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL) in Prince Rupert is bringing people together to try out new ways of creating lasting, positive change for both the economic and social systems of the community. The NCIL is focusing its first year on a small number of projects that already have some support or momentum in the community, but would benefit from new networks, additional human capacity, research, coordination and/or business thinking.

Project Co-ordinator Rabia Ahmed is pursuing her Masters in Environmental Studies with a focus on Planning at York University, and halfway through a four-month internship in Prince Rupert. Here she shares her work as part of the NCIL team, focusing on feasible ways to increase access to the local fish and marine economy in Prince Rupert.

Identifying the need

Prince Rupert has a strong connection to its fishing history and culture, and yet we’ve heard from the community that opportunities to access fresh, local seafood are hard to come by. My work so far has focused on understanding why this disparity exists, and what can be done to address it. Conversations with community members, alongside insights gleaned from research into local priorities and case studies from other coastal towns, are beginning to paint a picture of why access to local seafood is so challenging.

A significant barrier is, of course, access to the resource itself – fisheries are closely monitored to ensure conservation of fish, especially species deemed to be at risk. This means that there is perpetually more demand than supply for locally caught seafood. The high cost for consumers; the relatively limited retail opportunities for buying seafood; and a lack of access to information on what to look for, how to prepare and ways to cook seafood are all barriers holding people back from enjoying this wild, local protein.

Piloting ideas

One of ways we’re assessing the needs of the community is through open discussions with the public. We carried out a small pilot at Cow Bay Days (a local street festival) on July 7th, where Dolly’s Fish Market set up a small outdoor fish market. The aim was to gauge the community’s response to outdoor fish sales and engage with more people about the barriers and potential solutions they would like to see in Prince Rupert to increase their access to local seafood.

Over 50 people came to speak to us – giving us their insights and even suggesting new ideas that we hadn’t thought of! It was a day of thoughtful discussions and emerging and exciting possibilities.  We now have more grassroots data to continue to guide project planning.

Working differently

The solutions to this issue will be determined by the needs and input of the community – that’s what the NCIL model is all about. I’m really enjoying this process, particularly the openness with which we get to approach these projects. The goal of the Social Innovation Lab model is not to come at the issue with assumptions and project ideas already in mind, but rather to draw on local insights, multiple perspectives, and research to guide the process. What this means in practice is that there is a constant zooming in and out on potential ideas. There is constant refinement and reflection, and lots of pivoting as new information becomes available. I’m learning to be comfortable sitting with the chaos that can occur with this less-structured approach, and letting the ideas and solutions emerge organically.

Rabia was invited to talk about her research on CBC Radio One BC’s show ‘Daybreak North with Carolina De Ryk’ – listen here.


The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a globally recognized eco-certification system for forests and forest products, and has the most rigorous forest management standards in the world. An FSC logo on a wood-based product guarantees its end user that the wood was responsibly harvested, with attention paid to a wide range of triple-bottom-line factors such as communities and workers’ rights, healthy environment for the long-term, and full recognition of Indigenous rights and title.

Satnam Manhas, our Director of Forestry, shares how we’ve helped provide access to FSC certification for small businesses, and why we’re transitioning this long-standing program into new hands.

A cost-effective solution for small businesses

At Ecotrust Canada, we’ve always valued the importance of small businesses and the role they play in providing economic and social sustainability within communities. The FSC mandate to promote responsible forestry has also been an important part of Ecotrust Canada’s vision since its inception.

So forming our FSC Chain of Custody Group (CoC) Certification Program 11 years ago was a natural fit, to allow small to medium sized businesses access to FSC certification. We had seen that the high cost of individual certification had been preventing small businesses from pursuing FSC projects and products, and group certification lowered those costs by sharing them throughout the group. Hence, we were able to support the adoption of FSC forest management practices through these partners for a number of years.

Time to transition

In 2017, our program underwent a very successful chain of custody group audit, with all businesses passing their individual audits with flying colours. With this solid footing for the future, we made the difficult decision to close out our CoC Certification Program, and started the process of seeking the best transition process for our group members.

We researched the options available for the group members. They could either pursue individual certification at a much greater cost, or we could find a good home for them with another group manager. We met with a number of capable organizations, and made the decision to transfer the group to Paul Vanderford of Sustainable Northwest, a Portland-based organization that would take ownership of the group in April 2018.

A good home with Sustainable Northwest

Paul Vanderford has an extensive familiarity with the Forest Stewardship Council standards and many years of experience helping companies walk through the FSC assessment and audit process. Paul’s U.S. based group is the oldest FSC group certification program in North America. In his time managing the US-based group, he has grown the program from 28 to 76 businesses and helped grow group members’ certified wood sales from $1.8 million to $17 million dollars a year.

Paul is the board chair of the FSC U.S. board of directors where he works to ensure businesses get support and that FSC standards stay as simple as possible while maintaining credibility. He is involved in a joint Canada-U.S. task force on FSC monitoring and impacts, the FSC U.S. Policy and Standards Committee, and its Marketing and Communications Committee. The group couldn’t have been transferred to a more capable manager.

We are sad to see this long-standing program leave Ecotrust Canada. But, with their extensive experience and capacity in this area, we’re excited to see Sustainable Northwest grow and support our group of members, and look forward to supporting them as best we can.

Photo credit: Devlin Fernandes


Prince Rupert, a town of around 12,000 people in northern BC, has been historically dependent on resource-based activities and vulnerable to boom-and-bust economic cycles. It’s a microcosm for many remote communities dotted across Canada who are seeing increased unemployment as jobs move overseas, fewer benefits going to locals from the natural resources near them, the loss of young and educated people to urban areas, and seasonal employment.

But residents want to turn this around. To support this shift, Ecotrust Canada has initiated the North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL), which aims to bring local people together to try out new ways of creating lasting, positive change for both the economic and social systems of the community.

Our Project Manager, Nathan Randall, explains what this model of social innovation looks like, and how it’s getting started with the community.

Nathan, what is the North Coast Innovation Lab?

The NCIL draws on Ecotrust Canada’s learnings from eight years of community-based work in Prince Rupert and our award-winning LEDlab in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. While a strong economy is necessary to provide the employment and services needed by a community, the harder-to-measure aspects of a community – such as quality of life, culture, environmental health, and human connections – are also imperative to a community’s health and growth.

I can see that the NCIL will work to enhance collaboration across silos, sectors and cultures to align efforts and resources towards practical initiatives that will have triple bottom line impacts for the community. Unlike many economic development or civic engagement projects, the NCIL doesn’t have a specific structure or roadmap of outcomes – its role in the community and future impacts will emerge as the design-thinking process itself unfolds.

This may seem counterintuitive to some, but we believe that the best ideas for building local economies and communities come from the people and organizations that reside there. Our goal is to support Prince Rupert’s “movers and shakers” and their “game-changing” ideas by providing human capacity to advance ideas, a safe space for design and experimentation, and a supported process to develop and evaluate projects that enhance social and economic resilience.

How are you getting it started?

We spent 2017 figuring out if a North Coast Innovation Lab would be a good fit for Prince Rupert — whether we were in a position to add value to the existing initiatives and organizations in the community; could we bring capacity and attract funding to this work; and whether the social innovation lab approach was the right one. Our work, soul searching, and partnership discussions led us to the same place — yes.

The next step was to conduct over 40 community interviews with local leaders and community builders to help scope and design the NCIL. We want initiatives to complement the community development efforts already underway, not compete with them for resources, so listening and learning are key components of the NCIL. We published a report, Interview Reflections and Program Design, to share what we heard and what the scope of the NCIL will be moving forwards.

Most recently, I’ve been thrilled to hire two Project Coordinators to focus on our first projects:

  • Rabia Ahmed is pursuing her Masters in Environmental Studies with a focus on Planning at York University, and will be taking a deep dive into opportunities for access to the local fish and marine economy in Prince Rupert, and,
  • Kara Herbert is a student in the Masters of Public Policy program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and will be working in the NCIL to enhance co-working, information sharing, and resource sharing.

What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve learnt so far?

It’s been amazing to see how networked and connected people in Prince Rupert are, and how important those relationships are for both personal and professional reasons. That sense of community connection really acts as the glue that holds Prince Rupert together, and I love being a part of a community like that. The fact that my role in the NCIL is to strengthen those networks that already exist means my work is super rewarding. I’m excited for what’s to come, so stay tuned for more updates on the North Coast Innovation Lab!

The Amp offers a productive space for Vancouverites who work to make the world a better place. And yes, Rover can come, too.

As big-city real estate pressures increase the appeal of shared spaces and employees and entrepreneurs seek out alternatives to the dreaded cubicle maze, coworking is surging in popularity. In Vancouver’s changemaker community, The Amp is getting the formula right. We caught up with Nicola Parr, The Amp’s Coworking Community Manager.

What is The Amp?

It’s a coworking space located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. We’re a social enterprise launched by Ecotrust Canada in September 2014, and our name was inspired by our location in the historic BC Electric Railway Company Building. We offer supportive, affordable, creative space for organizations and individuals that are working towards positive change. Just to name a few, we have environmental organizations as members, such as Fraser Riverkeeper, an entrepreneur-focused impact accelerator called Spring, and we have a group called Kids Up Front that works to get children in need into concerts and shows.

Do you actively screen prospective members for values alignment?

No, it just happens organically; we get a lot of enquiries from possible members who already know what we’re about, because they already know someone in the space. When we do get an enquiry, we start a dialogue to get an idea of whether it’s a good fit or not. If it isn’t, there are other coworking spaces in the area, and we all refer people back and forth all the time.

Do you tend to capture organizations and companies as they are just starting out?

Not necessarily. We have the Light House Sustainable Building Centre, they’re eight-plus desks, they have been around for a while, and then yes, there are newer ones. We are a little different in that we don’t have a lot of your classic freelancers. A number of our members are smaller teams linked to larger organisations. That’s the case with Evergreen, a social enterprise working to transform public landscapes into community spaces with environmental, social and economic benefits. Their main office is in Toronto, but they have team holding down the fort out here in The Amp.

How has coworking evolved in recent years?

It’s been around for a while, but in the past few years it has started to grow massively. Deskmag, an industry trade publication, recently released its 2017 Global Coworking Survey. As of 2015, the researchers were able to identify 8,700 coworking spaces worldwide. Two years later, here in 2017, they found 13,800. Membership more than doubled over that time; about 1.2 million people around the world now work in a coworking space.

What’s driving the coworking boom?

Societal preferences around work are changing. People used to need, and want, cubicles where they kept their heads down in a private space, but now people are looking for more flexibility and freedom. In addition, commercial rents in cities like Vancouver are very high—it has become very difficult for smaller organizations, and especially NGOs, to afford their own dedicated space. Also, many people just don’t want to work on their own at home. It attracts the growing number of people who are not wanting to work from home, but who don’t want to pay for a full office, so they just pay for a desk.

How are large companies and organizations responding?

It’s getting difficult for for them to ignore coworking, and many  are trying to figure out how to make it work for them. Companies know they need to keep their workers—and in particular their millennial workers—interested and motivated. And so they’re offering perks they might not have had to think about before, such as flexibility and a creative work space. Coworking spaces offer those attributes. That said, coworking isn’t just for millennials! We have a wonderful generational diversity represented at The Amp.

There are so many coworking options in the market now, what ties them together?

The core coworking values of community, openness, collaboration, accessibility, and sustainability are practiced all over the world. This may be why coworking seems to work so well for the mission-driven organizations and individuals we have here at The Amp. We share similar core values, and that is important to our members and the community and network they work with.

What challenges are common to all coworking spaces, and how is The Amp tackling them?

We are in an open office, so you will find people on the phone and chatting, and maybe it might get too loud for some, but we are pretty open about that. We ask people to be mindful of others, we don’t want anyone to sit in silence, but if you are having a meeting we ask you to please not have it at your desk!

You mentioned referrals. Do you compare notes with other coworking spaces?

Yes, we are a founder and a member of the Coworking BC Society, which spreads the word about coworking and shares best practices. We see one another as allies, and yes, on some level we are competitors, we also know that we are each unique, and we understand that we can all help each other.

Alright, Nicola. Hit us with the pitch. What do I get if I join The Amp?

We have a boardroom and a mezzanine meeting room, a lounge space, nice big kitchen, secure indoor bike storage on the ground level, a free gym in the building, and phone booths that allow people to make a private call. Our desks are custom-built from FSC certified plywood, and the space is bright and beautiful and full of heritage character, with high ceilings and lots of natural light. Of course there are also all the usual things you get in an office: A staffed reception,  free coffee and tea, a fully equipped kitchen, WiFi, photocopier, printers. There are many events, and we offer community building opportunities  like yoga, meditation, knitting, running groups, and pub nights. We try to provide opportunities for members to connect with one another, to build the community. We are also dog-friendly, that’s another feature common in coworking spaces. If that sounds like a match, give us a call or drop us a line!


Hundreds of homes in the remote indigenous community of Bella Bella are long overdue for an upgrade. An efficient and non-polluting new technology may be just the ticket.

Summer has arrived on B.C.’s central coast. The days are long, and the fishing is good. But the Heiltsuk First Nation community members in Bella Bella know that another cold, damp, and very expensive winter is just around the corner.

That’s because most of the 1,050 people who live in this coastal outpost heat their homes with inefficient and often vintage furnaces that burn a combination of wood and stove oil or furnace oil. There are about 340 of these hybrid furnaces around town, some of them up to 25 years old.

Neither the wood nor the oil is an ideal choice for everyone. Firewood demands back-breaking manual work, which is impractical for elders, while every drop of fuel oil arrives by barge, at considerable cost to residents and risk to marine ecosystems that the Heiltsuk have relied on for food for thousands of years.

“We have high incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder,” reports Dave Jephcott, chief operations officer with the Heiltsuk Economic Development Corporation.

“Bella Bella sits in a natural bowl; so the environmental and health impacts of the dirty fuel being burned are very real—and also the risks of those bulk fuels that need to be transported here.”


A Zero-Pollution Solution

Ecotrust Canada financial strategist Graham Anderson learned about the challenge during conversations with Heiltsuk First Nations leadership. After residents showed him their utility rooms and told him their stories on a follow-up visit, he quickly realized that an opportunity existed to help the Heiltsuk meaningfully improve their quality of life and make their economy stronger and more resilient.

“The key to the success and sustainability of any community, is to return money back to the pockets of our people—and energy is a key way to do that,” says Jephcott.

Just to stay warm through the winter, some residents have been spending up to $2,000 per season, Anderson says. The older systems demanded a lot of maintenance, too. Some are falling apart, and the administration pegs upkeep costs at up to $600 a year for some setups.

And cost and health risks aren’t the only downsides. Each oil-heated home generates about four tonnes of carbon emissions per year, Anderson estimates.

“We knew there were better solutions out there that would allow the Heiltsuk to spend less on energy and keep their money circulating in the local economy,” says Anderson.

Fuel poverty is a global phenomenon in which a given region’s homeowners or occupants are forced to spend an unreasonable amount of their income on heating fuels. It’s exacerbated by high energy costs, low incomes, and homes with poor energy efficiency—like those in Bella Bella.

Anderson learned that in lieu of wood or oil, some community members plug in electric space heaters, which are very inefficient and expensive to run, or avoid using their furnaces altogether. “Some people just keep their houses cold,” he says. This isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s unhealthy. “When you have a house that is not using much heat, when it’s not circulating air through the furnace, you end up creating the conditions that allow mold to grow.”


A Plan Comes Together

Anderson concluded that heat pumps could help Bella Bella residents transition off oil and wood heating. The systems extract heat from outside air and pump it into living spaces through small ducts. The pumps run on electricity, which the community has in abundance, thanks to a nearby hydroelectric power station, and retrofit installations are fairly straightforward.

Working in close collaboration with the Heiltsuk First Nation, Ecotrust Canada is working to put together financing to support a pilot project that could drastically reduce Bella Bella’s fossil fuel reliance. To date, the project has received support from Vancity, Patagonia, the BC Rural Dividend Program, and Northern Development Initiative Trust. Anderson and the team have identified additional funding sources that, if successful, could potentially retrofit all of Bella Bella’s homes.

The opportunity is also being explored to set up a new business within Heiltsuk Economic Development Corporation that will be responsible for the heat pump maintenance, installation, and training.

Once the project shifts to implementation, Anderson expects the Heiltsuk will train and employ their own people to install and maintain the heat exchangers, building capacity, resilience, and self-reliance. This is in keeping with similar Ecotrust Canada projects.

Next up is another community visit this coming month to gather detailed feedback on the project from Heiltsuk elders and community members before moving forward with installations in collaboration with a separate Eco-Home initiative and a broader demonstration of the technology through the fall and the coming winter.

“Everything starts at home—whether that is getting ready for work or taking care of your family,” says Dave Jephcott.

“This project is so much more than just about heat pumps, or energy savings, it is about having a huge impact on our day-to-day lives.”

The Forest to Frame project is helping a B.C. indigenous community build capacity while creating good jobs and new homes.

At Ecotrust Canada, we’ve had the privilege to work alongside—and at the invitation of—indigenous communities that are grappling with the legacy of colonialism and the long shadows cast by globalism and industrialization.

Through deep and respectful collaboration, we work to re-localize and revitalize economies to establish truly sustainable markets and supply chains that support meaningful livelihoods.

Our Qwii-qwiq-sap ‘Standing Tree to Standing Home’ initiative has proven a pillar of this work. The first phase of that project sought to use local forest resources and local labour as the foundation of a conservation economy in the traditional territories of the Tla-o-qui-aht, Hesquiaht, Ahousaht, Yuutu?it?aht and Toquaht First Nations.

That B.C. initiative is entering a new phase of development, looking at scaling up through regional collaborations. But in recent months we’ve also taken on a new, but aligned project in the province’s central interior region, in the Tsilhqot’in community of Yunesit’in, population about 200.

Local Trees For Local Needs

Forest to Frame is a project to support local capacity development by using local trees, milled locally, for local needs. It focuses on relationships, partnerships, and networking.

“When first elected in 2012, one of the most obvious issues was existing quality of housing and the lack of new housing in general,” said Yunesit’in chief Russell Myers-Ross.

“It was a crisis then, and it has not been relieved to date, with only two new homes constructed in the past five years,” Myers-Ross added. “There were a few ideas and strategies we had, but nothing fully comprehensive. There were so many preliminary attempts at starting initiatives that failed to pick up momentum, which was devastating when you have to wait a whole year to try again.”

Out of this frustration, Myers-Ross approached Satnam Manhas, Ecotrust Canada’s Manager of Forest and Ecosystem Services. Myers-Ross had heard of Ecotrust Canada’s Standing Tree to Standing Home work, and wanted to see if there could be ways to create new jobs and new homes at the same time for his Nation.

In turn, Manhas encouraged Ecotrust Canada financial analyst Graham Anderson to put in a call to Rami Rothkop, the mill manager for Harrop-Procter Forest Products. For more than a decade, Rothkop had run a small Forest Stewardship Council certified sawmill in the Kootenays near Nelson, B.C.

Meanwhile, Natalie Swift had been volunteering in the community for more than a year while pursuing her Masters in Forestry at the University of British Columbia. As a result of Swift’s experience, the Yunesit’in Government offered her the opportunity to coordinate the Forest to Frame project with Ecotrust Canada.

Moving in the Mill

After a discussion with the Yunesit’in community, Ecotrust Canada brought Rothkop in to meet with the community and confirm that a small mill would be viable for the project. “In the end, we were doing more than making a plan for capacity building, we were actually bringing in a skilled and experienced person to help the community make better decisions,” said Manhas.

A feasibility study conducted by Anderson concluded that, with a few key connections and introductions, the Yunesit’in could really grow their conservation economy. A few years back, the Tsilhqot’in Nation had successfully asserted its rights to use its lands for local benefit. A landmark 2014 Supreme Court decision secured Aboriginal Title for a portion of its lands.

Forest to Frame will start out by using Douglas-fir sourced from the Tsilhqot’in traditional territory to produce wood products for use in community housing. With Ecotrust Canada’s support, Rothkop and Harrop-Procter Forest Products sawyer Darryl Fincham assisted the Yunesit’in Government in securing a small sawmill to process the timber. Fincham also developed sawmill training for the community.

Community members will participate in all stages of the process, from harvesting, to milling, to construction.

Off to a Good Start

Yunesit’in Councillor Gabe Pukacz is serving as the project’s community lead. He led an on-site training program delivered in conjunction with the construction of the community’s school and gymnasium. As a result, there is now a Yunesit’in construction crew capable of building new homes.

The project is also collaborating with other Tsilhqot’in communities, such as Tl’esqox. This community currently operates a small sawmill and will be sharing its site with Yunesit’in. The collaboration is off to a good start. Yunesit’in and other nearby communities are planning to build new homes for community members. In Yunesit’in alone, there are plans to build up to six homes per year—and in other Tsilhqot’in First Nation communities there are plans for even more.

“We believe that the local forest should benefit our community,” said chief Myers-Ross. “While our team is still working out the details to make it successful, it is exciting to know that, with all the energy, testing and analysis, it might actually work and all the pieces may finally fit into place—from forest to frame.”