An abundance mindset (you choose your own wage?!). Founded on a vision of sharing harmonious relationships with all Earth’s kin. Committed to decolonizing all levels of engagement and conducting business. Alberta-based, non-profit social enterprise, Newo.energy is all this and more.
|Team installing solar panels on roof.|
Cari Kilmartin, a member of the communications team explains the organizational structure: “We speak of Newo as a tree,” she says, describing how the roots are the board and the wider community of supporters, elders and partners, the trunk pertains to the organizational culture and administrative functions, and the branches of the tree refer to its services.
Founded in 2016, Newo grew out of the values encapsulated by the Spirit of the Land class of the University of Alberta Augustana Campus, led by Raj Rathnavalu, a former Buddhist monk. Cari participated as a student. “It was nothing like a university class,” she recalls, describing how the course involved engaging with farmers, ecologists, Indigenous leaders, and practicing meditation and contemplation. “We read Wendall Berry, Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian, to quote a few books.”
The organization's name itself, Newo, was a gift from a Samson Cree First Nation Elder and signifies “four” in Plains Cree, encompassing the four elements (earth, air, wind and fire); seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall); directions (north, south, east, and west); and aspects of being human (mind, body, spirit and emotion).
With a focus on Indigenous-settler relations, Newo’s internal structure and culture starts inwards, out. With weekly staff check-ins, “Newo tends to create a space for people to show up their full selves,” Cari says. “It’s about decolonizing ourselves first, because it is necessary to look inward. It can be a struggle; most people go through existential crisis, you come out on the other side stronger.”
Newo began with solar design and installation as its main service, and to date, the organization has completed 35 solar installations (that is, over 150 kW in ground mounts and off grid systems, over 250 kW in residential systems, and approximately 500 kW in commercial systems). Other services include energy audits and educational workshops. Newo is also exploring initiatives that include Indigenous food-security projects and pay-it-forward financing models.
As a Regional Support Centre for the United Church of Canada’s Faithful Footprints program, Newo has engaged about 30 United Church communities since starting in November 2021.
The program itself, delivered by the national multifaith environmental network, Faith & the Common Good, offers grants, tools and inspiration to help UCC congregations reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions 80% by 2030.
Two churches completed solar projects this spring: First United Church Wetaskiwin and Riverbend United Church, Edmonton. Newo assisted these church groups with the grant process as well as installing the solar panels, with the actual installation provided via their latest program, Pecamu Makoce (Stoney for “fixing the earth”). This program is an Indigenous-led training and employment program, specifically targeted to the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, and headed by one of Newo’s first ever trainees, Joby Yellowdirt (who is a member of Alexis). The program not only trains people for future employment, it also aims to equip participants with life skills such as money management and more.
Talking with Cari, her enthusiasm for the organization is palpable. Recently, thanks in part to Cari’s “love letter to Newo'', the group won an Alberta Emerald Award. Cari says she applied for the award as a surprise for the Newo team: “It was cool and exciting to be recognized.”
Currently, the team is working on their ‘trunk’, that is, their culture, and making it easier for people to help people. “A lot of people come into this group, there are tons of different perspectives that emerge,” she says.
When it comes to engaging broader audiences, Cari recommends basing communication efforts on where people are at, “rooted in compassion, and in an open, inviting space.”
|Team out in the field, in front of solar installation.|
Is there reason for a hopeful future? “Depends on the day,” Cari admits. Being a member of such a unique organization like Newo is both “a blessing and a curse” in the sense that being in an orbit of like-minded people can prove a bit of a shock when you step out of it. “I have no idea how I am going to work for another organization,” she jokes.
“Newo really encourages me; on the whole, it’s easier to be hopeful. Ultimately, it starts with what you do, in your circle and then, cross your fingers,” she concludes.