We are pleased to share that Wataynikaneyap Power CEO, Margaret Kenequanash, has been chosen as a “2022 Changemaker” by The Globe and Mail. The full story can be read here: www.theglobeandmail.com/business/rob-magazine/article-emerging-business-leaders-innovation-canada/. The profiles are included in the Report on Business magazine found within The Globe and Mail print edition on February 26, 2022. The text is pulled out below. Congratulations Margaret!
Meet 50 emerging leaders reinventing how Canada does business
The Globe narrowed down 50 ‘Changemakers’ –entrepreneurs, academics and executives – whose dedication, perseverance andenthusiasm might just give us the lift we need to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic
TAMAR SATOV AND ROSEMARY COUNTER
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
We could all use a little inspiration as we grope our way through year three of the pandemic. That’s especially true when we consider the long list of challenges we’ll still be facing when COVID-19 is finally behind us, including climate change, racial injustice and income inequality. So it’s perfect timing for our second annual Changemakers package, a celebration of emerging leaders who are finding pragmatic solutions to the world’s most intractable problems.
Our search began with a call for nominations, both from the business community and from across The Globe and Mail. Finalists were evaluated based on their ideas, accomplishments and impact. Out of hundreds of submissions, we narrowed it down to 50 entrepreneurs, academics and executives whose dedication, perseverance and enthusiasm might just give us the lift we need to make it through the pandemic—and encourage us all to make some changes of our own.
MARGARET KENEQUANASH | CEO, Wataynikaneyap Power
Margaret Kenequanash has been a fierce advocate for First Nations communities for more than 30 years. The first female chief of the North Caribou Lake First Nation in northern Ontario (about 320 kilometres by plane due north of Sioux Lookout) has held positions across many industries, from health to finance to education to community development. Her latest and most ambitious endeavour is Wataynikaneyap Power, an 1,800-kilometre transmission line that will deliver reliable electricity to remote northern communities that desperately need it.
These nations currently depend on diesel-powered generators, which creates a host of problems both for the communities that use them and for the planet. The largest generators in use are just one megawatt, and most communities are already operating at maximum power capacity. So when they inevitably surpass the load restriction, the generator fails and the whole community’s power goes out. “In the summer, this affects our food and water. In the winter, our elders and children are in danger,” says Kenequanash. Plus, diesel is dirty: Burning it produces 40% more CO2 than natural gas, and the impact of a spill during the trip north (often on ice highways) could be catastrophic to local waterways and land. It’s prohibitively expensive, too. Connecting remote communities to the electrical supply would save roughly $1billion over 40 years.
Enter Wataynikaneyap Power, which translates to “line that brings light” in Anishiniiniimowin. It’s a partnership between 24 First Nations communities and St. John’s–based electric and gas holding company Fortis Inc.(the former have a 51% stake, the latter 49%, along with several private partners). Its mission is to help First Nations communities eliminate diesel power by connecting them to the provincial transmission grid, bringing stable electricity to 20,000 people. It will also help cut millions of tonnes of GHG emissions.
Connecting these communities has been a priority for decades, but the project didn’t really get going until Kenequanash came on board as CEO five years ago. “I’m always struck by Margaret’s tenacity and focus on getting the project completed according to the principles set out by the 24 First Nations partners,” says David Hutchens, Fortis’s CEO. “Her sense of vision and leadership is always present.”
Under Kenequanash’s watch, some 1,600 transmission towers have been installed since 2019, and 70% of the right-of-way has been cleared for3,000-odd more. COVID-19 admittedly affected progress, as have the effects of climate change and rampant wildfires. But she isn’t losing sight of what’s at stake for her people—and it’s not just a lightbulb. “Think about if you lived n a sandbox and there’s power in the sandbox but nowhere else,” she says. “Work and business can only happen in that area. That’s very restrictive. In terms of community development, it stops most of it.”
Kenequanash has the sometimes complicated job of liaising between the corporate energy world and First Nations communities (including her own), which she describes as “a little like putting a square into a circle.” But procrastination is no longer an option. “Indigenous people can’t sit and wait for reliable energy’s arrival,” she says. “We need to be involved in the major infrastructures that are happening in our homeland. We need to have a sayin our communities and our future generations.”
At least in this corner of the world, Kenequanash is the one advocating on behalf of Indigenous communities. “My job,” she says, “is to deliver those messages to make careful and responsible partnerships that bring about real change. I’m trying to get each to understand the other so we can both move forward.” This year promises to be particularly rewarding, she adds, when the substation in Pickle Lake goes active. Among the many nations that will finally be connected is her own.