Our organization received the gift of its name from Elder Roy Louis of Samson Cree First Nation, who drew the first iteration of our logo on a kitchen napkin. Newo signifies “four” in Plains Cree, and is sacred to that culture, encompassing the four:
- elements: earth, air, wind and fire
- seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall
- directions: north, south, east, and west
- aspects of being human: mind, body, spirit and emotion.
Newo grew from seeds of ideas planted by the Spirit of the Land (SOTL) program at the University of Alberta Augustana Campus.
Guided by the belief that solutions are bountiful when a community works together with mutual respect, selflessness and love, a group of students and teachers set out in 2012 to foster connections with First Nations leaders, farmers, scholars, energy-sector representatives and ecologists and host academic courses and annual conferences.
In 2016, the experiment that is Newo began.
The organization was designed to be a conduit for the application of the values of SOTL in the “real world.” It’s easy to theorize about how best to work and live, but the rubber really hits the road when you step out and take action.
Part of the problem with our current economic paradigm is the pressure on companies to generate profit for shareholders. No company goes out into the world intending to destroy community or ecology, however, shareholder pre-eminence created an ethic where everything else comes second.
Newo is registered as a non-profit corporation under Part 9 of the Alberta Corporations Act. This allows us to operate as a business and generate our own revenue without being beholden to shareholders. Without knowing it at the time, we created an organization more commonly known as a social enterprise, which uses market tools to accomplish non-profit goals.
We entered the solar industry aware that renewable energy was only part of the solution — not the solution. The values and vision developed in the SOTL program kept us grounded in the understanding that if we don’t attend to the deeper inner and cultural work necessary to mitigate the extractivist and consumerist patterns of the last few generations, the renewable energy industry, and all industry for that matter, will continue to perpetuate the societal and ecological problems we face today.
As we began to cut our teeth on residential, commercial, and agricultural solar projects, we added education and training to our mix of services. We now conduct workshops across the province, educating communities about this emerging sector and training individuals with barriers to employment (Indigenous youth, those experiencing homelessness, and people exiting the prison system) or in transition from the oil and gas sector. Our work has allowed us to build beautiful partnerships with First Nations, like-minded organizations, and various communities.
As we look to the future of renewable energy and its impact on generations to come, we also want to acknowledge the past life of this region and an Indigenous vision of the world that connects the natural world and the pieces of human life together in harmony.