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Photo credit: Melina Laboucan-Massimo


Studies have linked oil production from Alberta’s tar sands to devastating impacts on both the environment and the wellbeing of local aboriginal communities. Contamination has rendered the local wildlife, land, and water unfit for consumption, thus forcing communities to increase consumption of store-bought foods. Exposure to toxic chemicals in oil sands development is also blamed for increasing cancer occurrences. These impacts are particularly strong in the Lubicon Cree community; in 2011, one of the largest oil spills in Alberta’s history dumped 28,000 barrels of crude oil into Little Buffalo. The oil companies have reportedly taken $14 billion in resources from the Lubicon Cree’s traditional territory and funneled the royalties to the Alberta government. [1]

Located in the heart of Alberta’s tar sands, this 20.8 kW pole-mounted solar project is a community-based initiative of the Lubicon Cree Nation. The Piitapan project was constructed by local residents, providing emissions-free power for the First Nation’s health centre and school, and will be used as an educational tool in the Little Buffalo community. [2]

The solar panels will supply electricity to the First Nation’s brand new health centre, with excess feeding into the grid. “It’s right in the community, so young people can see that we don’t just have to generate power and electricity from fossil fuels, that we can power it from the sun."

Along with the solar project, the team plans to hold workshops for elementary and high school kids to educate them on the benefits of renewable energy.

Indigenous communities in northern Alberta used to be self-sufficient, living off the land, [Lubicon Cree First Nation and Greenpeace member Melina Laboucan-Massimo] said, but now they rely on social services, and outside sources of food, water and fuel.

Laboucan-Massimo wants to create green jobs and less reliance on fossil fuels, and for her that starts with the community-owned and operated solar project. [In 2014], she began planning the solar project: “We introduced the idea of solar panels coming into the community, and people were interested in having them. You know, this is basically a demonstration of the type of technology that exists in the world now, and that we should be utilizing, instead of solely relying on extractive industries like the tar sands."

There was no government funding whatsoever for the project.

“There’s very, very limited funding for renewables in Alberta and in Canada," she said. “There’s some, but it’s very limited." The solar project organizer said there needs to be more funding for renewables projects like this one. “I hope that by having projects like this, in the northern part of Alberta, that the Alberta government will take note of it, seeing that communities are going ahead without them, that communities really want to see this, and that they’re willing to put their support and money into this." [3]


[1]      “First Nation Builds Spirited Solar Project in the Heart of Canada’s Oil Sands.” Inhabitat Green Design Innovation Architecture Green Building. Accessed August 13, 2021. https://inhabitat.com/first-nation-builds-spirited-solar-project-in-the-heart-of-canadas-oil-sands/#:~:text=1%20of%209-,One%20of%20Alberta’s%20biggest%20solar%20projects%20has%20been%20built%20in,installation%20in%20Little%20Buffalo%2C%20Alberta.

[2]       “Lubicon Lake: Piitapan Solar Project.” Emerging Leaders for Solar Energy. Accessed August 13, 2021. http://www.elsecanada.ca/node/179.

[3]        Beaumont, Hilary. “This Aboriginal Community Is Launching a Solar Project in the Heart of Canada’s Oil Sands.” VICE. Accessed August 13, 2021. https://www.vice.com/en/article/a39egj/this-aboriginal-community-is-launching-a-solar-project-in-the-heart-of-canadas-oil-sands.

Additional information:

“Creating a New Story in Lubicon Land.” Axiom News. Accessed August 13, 2021. http://axiomnews.com/creating-new-story-lubicon-land.

Just Transition Solar in Indigenous Communities – Piitapan Solar Project. Vimeo, 2021. https://vimeo.com/547680404.

“Solar Panels – Lubicon Cree First Nation: Kuby Energy.” Solar Panels – Lubicon Cree First Nation | Kuby Energy. Accessed August 13, 2021. https://kubyenergy.ca/littlebuffalocommunitycentre.

Project Title: Piitapan Solar Project
Artists: Lubicon Cree Nation
Year: 2015

Place: Little Buffalo, Alberta

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