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In 2013, after several years of work and document review by federal agencies, Ecotrust Canada became the first charitable organization to obtain Corporation Certification to deliver at-sea and dockside fisheries monitoring programs. These programs include training courses for human Observers as well as data collection, entry and delivery protocols to ensure all federal fisheries data standards are met.

Amanda Barney, our General Manager for the Marine Monitoring Initiative, shares her personal insights on the human observer training happening with small indigenous fishing communities on Vancouver Island, and the benefits it’s bringing them.

Meeting a community need

For the last two years we’ve been working with the five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations supporting T’aaq-wiihak fisheries by delivering a dockside monitoring program for their Suuhaa (chinook) and Mi?aat (sockeye) directed salmon fisheries.  T’aaq-wiihak refers to fishing with the permission of the Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) to catch and sell all species traditionally harvested within their territories, and comprises the rights of five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.

While the T’aaq-wiihak were collecting valuable data for their own fishery management, like many First Nations communities they were also having to hire external human monitors to be able to report that data back to the federal government based on the national standard. These intense hiring costs are not economically feasible for smaller fisheries, which limits their ability to keep boats on the water, and hence their ability to bring employment and income into their local communities.

Local knowledge and Indigenous-led monitoring

In order to support these First Nations located around Tofino on Vancouver Island, Ecotrust Canada actively works as a service provider. We offer training programs that enable the hiring of local Dockside Monitors, data entry and program coordination, as well as offering remote data collation and delivery services. While fisheries monitoring may seem like a strange thing for a charity to pursue, we have seen the invigorating effect our work has had on the industry and local communities.

Our goal for the training program for the T’aaq-wiihak fisheries is to reinforce and continue to build local fisheries knowledge and capacity in order to meet the needs of First Nations, local fishing communities and meeting the national standards from the DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) for the designation of Observers. Observer training courses prepare students for employment as catch monitors, biological samplers or both, and guides them through the Observer certification process.

              

Additionally, supporting small and medium-sized fishing boats contributes to a less intensive and less stressful environment for the fish in comparison to modern industrial vessels.

Thus, we use the DFO designation as an umbrella to support small community fisheries and First Nation fisheries, offering affordable services to all, not just affluent industrial fisheries that can afford external monitoring. We believe that offering this service to small local fishing communities contributes to their long-term economic health, as well as local community culture and well-being.

Natural stewards of lands and resources

From my own perspective, I have come to my role as lead trainer for our Observer programs very organically. Not only did I work many years ago as both a dockside and an at-sea Observer in Alaska, but in my first years at Ecotrust Canada I did salmon Observer work in Prince Rupert and helped deliver training programs to our North Coast and Namgis’ partners.

I find training local community members to monitor and engage with the fisheries that occur in the waters around their homes particularly fulfilling, as they are connected to the resource and area in such a mindful way that makes them very natural stewards, and also, very engaged students.

For more information, read about our Observer Training Program.

 

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!

Photo Credit: Devlin Fernandes

 

BC wild fisheries provide a bounty of values to coastal communities and Canadians. Our Pacific fisheries are a critical source of local healthy food, a key contributor to our economy, a provider of jobs, a connector to nature, and a foundation of our identity itself.

But coastal communities have seen a significant decline in their ability to fish along their local shores and sustain their way of life. Not because of a lack of fish, but due to many attempts at industry reform that have disenfranchised these communities, including First Nations who have relied on this resource since time immemorial.

Currently, the increasing privatization and value of this public resource mirrors the Vancouver housing market, as speculative investors are attaining profits from owning and renting fishing licenses and quota, and taking this value out of the hands of local communities.

Tasha Sutcliffe, Ecotrust Canada’s VP, is optimistic though that current fisheries policies can be changed to better support independent fishermen, First Nations and coastal communities.

 

What’s the current state of the fishing industry on the Pacific Coast?

We’ve observed through our working relationships, research, and analysis, that the absence of social, economic, and cultural considerations in policy development have resulted in a current fisheries policy framework that does not work for coastal communities and fish harvesters in British Columbia.

Currently, one of the greatest threats to healthy fisheries and coastal communities in BC is the increasing large scale privatization of this critical public resource. This is the result of policies that enable private speculative investors and large companies, whether Canadian or offshore, to purchase, own and lease local fishing rights with no obligation to actually be on board a boat and harvest fish.

In BC, the resulting high cost of licenses and quota and low share of value going to crew on the boat, is leaving no room for independent fishermen, small scale community and family-owned fishing businesses to exist. It has led to loss of jobs, declining incomes, negative environmental impacts, safety concerns, and less sustainable seafood available locally. It has also meant the loss of the many broader benefits communities have had from their deeply rooted connection to the sea such as multigenerational transfer of knowledge, access to food, and local environmental stewardship.


What’s the opportunity for change?

In addition to restoring lost protection to fish and fish habitat, the federal government is looking to enshrine social, economic and cultural objectives into the Fisheries Act and enable policy change in the Pacific region. Both the current Federal and BC Provincial governments are concerned with the wellbeing of coastal communities and understand the huge impact fisheries policy can have on that.

There is now, for the first time in decades, the possibility of correcting current public policy in BC so that independent fish harvesters and their communities are better supported.

As a result, in February this year, Ecotrust Canada facilitated the Fisheries for Communities Gathering on behalf of those who reached out to us expressing the need for such an event. Among the over 120 participants were young and old fish harvesters, coastal community mayors, First Nations leaders and fish harvesters, academics, and environmental organizations.

Despite the diverse perspectives and interests in the room, the Gathering came to a consensus on the need for fisheries policy reform in the Pacific region, and a core request to be made to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to start the process to address this through a licensing policy review. The gathering also identified key principles for reform, including protecting the independence of active fish harvesters, prioritizing reconciliation with First Nations, and more local, decentralized and inclusive governance. We compiled and released a Proceedings Report of the day so that the information and outcomes can support the efforts of fish harvesters and organizations to affect change.

Right now, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is reviewing the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, and I felt honoured to be invited as a witness to share the research and experiences that Ecotrust Canada has gained through working with coastal communities and fisheries over the years.


Is fishing still a viable career for current and future fishermen?

We know that sustainable, small-scale fisheries and viable, independent fish harvesters can provide multiple benefits to their communities. Active harvesters are small businesses who are running operations, employing crew, buying local supplies, giving back to the community, ensuring that their family, community, and country members have healthy and high quality food, and they are risking their lives to do so.

But we need to work together to ensure the right policy framework is enacted to support them.

Young, passionate and already well-experienced fish harvesters such as Cailyn Siider, James Lawson, Chelsey Ellis (shown below) and Duncan Cameron, all stood as witnesses to the Standing Committee to have their voices heard. This future generation of fish harvesters are already working to create the change they want to see, for a career they want to continue in, and for coastal communities they want to live in.

Photo Credits: Cailyn Siider

And, Ecotrust Canada will continue to offer our expertise, research, and analysis in supporting fish harvesters such as these four, community partners, and governments, in working toward the common goal of creating a fair, prosperous, and sustainable Canadian fishery from coast to coast to coast.

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.”