Founder, Sacred Earth Solar
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Lubicon Cree from Northern Alberta, Canada, has worked on social, environmental, and climate justice issues for the past 15 years. Her organization, Sacred Earth Solar, empowers frontline Indigenous communities with renewable energy as they seek to protect their homelands from becoming fossil fuel extraction zones.
Foundation: What made you decide to become an activist?
Melina: My home community is in the middle of the tar sands in Alberta, which is one of the largest industrial extraction zones on the planet. We currently serve as the gas tank for America. When I was seven, my community blockaded the road into our territory because oil and logging companies were coming into our homeland without the consent or permission of the people who live there. As I grew up, I saw the societal, human, and environmental impact of the changing landscape. We live in the ancient boreal forest, which is the northern lungs of Mother Earth. Not only does the boreal forest help us combat climate change, but it is extremely important to us culturally as Indigenous peoples. Seeing the landscape change so drastically made me know that I had to dedicate my life to this work. If we don’t do it, who will?
Foundation: What are you most passionate about in your work?
Melina: I think it is important to leave this beautiful Earth in better condition than we found it so that future generations can live with clean air and water. However, that is not the current trajectory for them. I believe environmental and climate justice issues are inextricably linked to human rights.
What’s excited me most recently, is implementing the change we want to see. As opposed to simply saying “No” to what currently exists, what excites me is building the “Yes.” For climate solutions to exist, we need to build the energy systems that help us to not burn more fossil fuels and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that produce climate change. For me, building solar projects is a beacon of hope for what our future can look like.
Foundation: How does the Lewis Family Foundation help?
Melina: In the latest project, what we’ve done with the support of the Lewis Family Foundation is build more solar projects, including a mobile solar unit that helps women who are standing up to the Transmountain pipeline construction going through their territory. The mobile solar unit enables them to stay on the frontlines and monitor the activity that is happening in their homeland. The community is concerned about the environmental impacts of a pipeline spill, but they are also very concerned about the man-camps that are being constructed to build the pipeline. There have been numerous studies released that show the high correlation between industrial extraction zones and increased violence against women. The women I work with are very concerned about the social impact of having thousands of transient workers coming in and around small, vulnerable communities. The project allows the community to utilize solar energy to host media as well as document the ongoing construction with their mobile phones. They also use it to sew banners and cultural items. To learn more, go to SacredEarth.Solar.
Foundation: What’s next for you?
Melina: I’ve just finished filming a TV show that will air on national TV in Canada. It’s called “Power to the People,” and I am the host. It’s about renewable energy, eco-housing, and food security in communities across Canada. We show models of renewable energy initiatives that communities have implemented.
Foundation: What do you do when you’re not working?
Melina: I work a lot! But I do really enjoy going to yoga, going for hikes in the forest, spending time with friends and family, and going to ceremony, putting out prayers for all living beings.
Foundation: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Melina: People are surprised to learn that Indigenous communities in First World countries like America or Canada live in Third World conditions—for example, the community I come from did not have running water until five years ago, there are no paved roads, and we have an ongoing housing crisis. For this reason, we have the highest suicides rates in both Canada and the U.S.
Tell us a little about yourself. Which do you prefer?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Reading a book or seeing a movie?
Both! But I definitely read books more than I watch movies.
Going for a hike or sitting by a fire?
Going for a hike by day and sitting by a fire at night.
Talking or listening?
Both! I think it’s important to create constructive dialogue. I think Indigenous voices have been silenced for far too long, so it’s important for us to talk. But listening is essential.
Dogs or cats?
Being interviewed or having a tooth pulled?