The following is a personal story about the realities of energy poverty, experienced by our Community Power staff member Malonie Langthorne. As an Indigenous woman who did not grow up in her community (Gitanmaax First Nations), Malonie has spent the majority of her career dedicated to the pursuit of lifelong sustainability of Indigenous people and creating partnerships that support Indigenous projects and organizations.
I was raised in my early years by a single mom who could barely make ends meet. As a 5-year-old, I remember coming home from school to find my mom making sandwiches for dinner and trying to explain that for the next couple of weeks we were going to play a game. We were going to live like we were camping and, at first, I was so excited.
I had no idea that our power had been shut off and that my mother was having to make a very difficult decision: Do we eat for the next few weeks? Or, do we pay to have our power turned back on?
As a child I could have never truly understood the decisions or financial hardship my mother was facing. We had recently moved away from my stepfather, and together we were living in a tiny home with only our mattresses and a few personal possessions. We were starting our lives over, but somehow my mom always made everything feel like an adventure. The first night or two was fun but, as days turned into months, there wasn’t any hot water for baths or showers, and the little food we did have was rotting away in the fridge. I could tell, even at that young age, that something was wrong. We even had a battery powered camping light for reading books at bedtime, and eventually those batteries died, and my mom couldn’t afford to buy more.
I remember feeling uncertain and scared; overhearing conversations my mom would have with friends who stopped by to drop off dishes, pots and pans, and whatever other items they could donate to make our new life a little more comfortable. To ease my fears, a teenage daughter of one of my mom’s friends had often come to babysit, as my mom worked as a cook at a pub down the road. We would make paper sunflowers and a paper garden for the walls of my bedroom to make it come to life. It was these little things that I remember and that I know had a big part of making me who I am today. I am resilient and strong, and I embrace about change.
This is just a small glimpse into my own experience, but as I grew older and started working with Indigenous communities, I witnessed first-hand the extreme effects that energy poverty can have (and continues to have) on low income families. Often, I’d witness a cycle of families with power for a few months and then, when the bills couldn’t be paid, due to limited income and resources, they would be without power for weeks and sometimes months. Freezers filled with food for the year would go bad, small home businesses would cease functioning as they would lose their connection to the outside world. As you can imagine, this can cause all sorts of stress within the family. With all of the other barriers Indigenous communities face, not being able to cook, shower, wash and dry your clothing, work, and provide a safe and comfortable environment for your family is just another barrier to achieving self-sustainability and success. It can cost hundreds of dollars a month to power an inefficient home that is leaky and drafty.
High energy costs, and the resulting cut-offs, effect families in ways many may never understand because power is something that is often taken for granted.
More and more Indigenous Nations are now creating their own Energy Action Plans to clearly identify energy priorities, such as energy affordability, and to map out future energy initiatives. They’ve discovered that they have a choice and responsibility to take energy efficiency initiatives into their own hands.
I am proud to be able to work with our Indigenous partners to achieve their energy goals, as this is such an important part of ensuring that families today and tomorrow do not face the tough decisions my mother did. I joined Community Power as a result of my childhood experiences, which made me passionate about energy conservation. My goal: to make an impact on the way that communities look at energy efficiency and help with the development of long-term energy management plans that can help save money, reduce consumption, educate communities, and look at sustainable and long-term cost saving energy options.