Bridging Gaps In Energy Planning for First Nation Communities

  • Roopa Rakshit Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
  • Chander Shahi Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
  • M.A. (Peggy) Smith Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
  • Adam Cornwell Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Keywords: Bridging Gaps, Energy Planning


There is a link between energy security, economic prosperity, sustainability and sovereignty for indigenous communities in Canada. Geographically remote locations, absence of all-season roads, off-grid status, diesel dependency and lack of alternative energy access causes energy insecurities along with economic, social, and local environmental problems for the Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario. Being free of diesel dependency and scoping sustainable energy solutions are immediate priorities. Both are key motivational factors for effective community energy planning (CEP). However, most CEP is based on top-down decision making approaches which lack effective community engagement to design culturally appropriate, community-centeric energy plans. Such approaches fail to acknowledge local socio-cultural drivers as indicators of energy planning.

This article details the disconnects between theory and practice in energy planning for First Nation communities. The overarching purpose of this article is to bridge knowledge gaps regarding socio-cultural requirements, discuss the social costs in energy planning, and advance academic literature about indigenous perspectives on energy planning.

A literature review, key informant interviews and in-field observations in KO First Nation communities form the basis of our study. This article examines community insights on local energy planning to elicit drivers and determinants for a conceptual, bottom-up energy planning framework. It offers recommendations to integrate socio-cultural factors as part of a sustainable and functional energy planning approach for the KO communities. It provides justification that this process ensures multiple benefits such as buy-in by the communities, acceptance, and readiness for CEP implementation which fosters community ownership, self-determination, pride and empowerment. The research findings are timely. There is growing interest in ensuring local energy security amidst longstanding colonial treatment and marginalization of indigenous communities in the broader context of Canada’s greenhouse gas commitments.


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Author Biographies

Roopa Rakshit, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Roopa Rakshit is a Ph.D. candidate in the faculty of natural resources management, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Her research focus is on community energy planning and energy transition with aboriginal peoples in northern Ontario. She holds a masters degree in natural resources management from the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand. She has been actively involved with community-based research synthesis and knowledge mobilization of the climate change adaptation platform for Asia and the Pacific, supported by the Asian Institute of Technology–United Nations Environment Program (AIT-UNEP), Thailand. She is the corresponding author for this article. Email:

Chander Shahi, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Chander Shahi is an associate professor in the faculty of natural resources with specialization in forest economics, management, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto’s faculty of forestry in 2007. He has authored several book chapters, and technical reports in the areas of forest management, socio-economic impact studies, life cycle analysis, and qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. He is a reviewer for several prestigious academic journals. He is presently the dean of the faculty of graduate studies. Email:

M.A. (Peggy) Smith, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Dr. M.A. (Peggy) Smith is an associate professor in the faculty of natural resources management at Lakehead University. She teaches forest policy and legislation in natural resources, environmental assessments and aboriginal peoples. Her research focuses on the social impacts of natural resource management, including aboriginal involvement, development and conservation, community forestry, public participation, northern development and forest certification. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto’s faculty of forestry in 2007. She is a registered professional forester who graduated from the faculty of forestry at Lakehead University in 1991. Dr. Smith continues her longstanding affiliation as senior advisor with the National Aboriginal Forestry Association. Email:

Adam Cornwell, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Adam Cornwell is an assistant professor in the faculty of geography and the environment, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. His research interests include environmental science, climatology and climate modeling. He teaches quantitative methods in geography, environmental issues and climate change. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 2008. Email: acornwel@lakeheadu. ca.


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