Aboriginal communities across Australia are affected by numerous challenges including extreme unpredictable weather, rising energy costs and continuous threats from fossil fuel extraction. This makes staying on country and protecting sacred lands increasingly difficult.
For many Aboriginal communities, the ability to own and manage reliable power can be the difference between closure and maintaining a viable community.
Installing renewable energy is one way communities are taking their power back, both literally and figuratively. Taking control of electricity supply and cost brings empowerment, hope and security to many remote communities. Community Power is renewable energy which is owned, managed and controlled by the local community and it’s bringing jobs, local economic development and training to communities across the globe, particularly in the UK and US. For many Aboriginal communities, the ability to own and manage reliable power can be the difference between closure and maintaining a viable community.
Agriculture and mining are the dominant industries in the Cairns region and too often the understanding of Aboriginal issues is based on racist assumptions about how we live and practice our culture. Our Mob have been forced to live in the cities, where social challenges and lack of connection to country mean that many of our kids are growing up with mental and physical health problems. And a reliance on welfare leads to reduced sense of empowerment and low morale. Renewable energy is one way to turn all this around.
Setting up a community energy project allows us to live back on country. We can raise our children on their land and give them a cultural upbringing that allows them to understand who they are and where they come from. For us this is crucial. We’re about living back on country and looking after country, and renewable energy fits in perfectly with this sentiment. We won't harm the environment or continue to emit greenhouse gases. Another critical aspect is that it’s renewable, meaning the supplies won’t run out, which for us Mob is an issue that many communities face.
Self-determination for our Mob is a critical factor in all of this.
Community power also brings income and independence to our communities and region. There is already a lot of tourism around the area, but if it’s run by the local Aboriginal community, then resources can stay in the community and help build towards social projects. Cutting the cost of living is also another important factor. When there are dry seasons and conditions are getting tough, we can help each other out and support those communities with less resources. Thus, it’s not just about us but helping all our Mob.
Building renewable energy projects, which are owned and managed by our community, mean that in the long term we can start to build other projects that will increase our capacity and employment in the region. We’ve been working on Ranger programs, food production and other farming opportunities. All our Mob have incredible skill sets that when combined with resources and income will be able to create sustainable community outcomes, independence and self-sufficiency.
Self-determination for our Mob is a critical factor in all of this. All we want is to be able to run our own affairs, look after our kids, care for country and create sustainable futures for our communities. Community energy is the first step in this direction and we are excited to have this opportunity to change our futures.
We also want to help other Nations do similar projects. We hope to be a support and leader in the movement, showing other Mobs what’s possible, so they can build their own projects. We want to reduce reliance on government handouts, build capacity and local economies, provide local skills and training, but most importantly empowerment, self-worth and pride in our communities.
We see community energy as the starting point to this.
Eddie Turpin was representing Yidinji, Narjon & Mbarbarum Nations, Atherton Tablelands, QLD at the Community Energy Congress in Melbourne earlier this week.