Project 89: Agent of Hope: Cenovus Energy’s Indigenous Housing Initiative

Student Name(s): Dalia & Jenna

School: Edmonton Islamic Academy

Grade: 4


Research Topic / Main Questions:

We are researching Cenovus Energy’s Indigenous Housing Initiative. Some questions that we will explore are: What is the progress of Cenovus Energy’s Indigenous Housing Initiative after 2 years? How does providing hope help people heal? Why help others in the community?

Why did you choose this topic:

We chose this topic because we enjoy helping others in the community. During the school year, my classmates and I studied the regions in northern Alberta. We read all about Cenovus Energy and how the company is helping families in the 6 northern Alberta Indigenous communities in social studies. Cenovus Energy is building brand new homes in Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Chard Metis (Local 218), Conklin Metis (Local 193), Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Cold Lake First Nation, and Heart Lake First Nation. The company has committed 50 million dollars for the next 5 years on building new homes. Throughout the school year, we have also studied the dark legacy residential schools in Canada. Many individuals are still recovering and healing from their experiences in residential schools. The last residential school closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan. It was called the Gordon’s Indian Residential School.

At Edmonton Islamic Academy, we believe in helping others. During our school’s Sparks Run event in September 2021, we raised over $1300 for the nutrition program at Prince Charles School. Prince Charles School provides their students with Cree Language instruction and cultural teachings and activities. Our school has an on-going partnership with Prince Charles School in which we learn about each other’s culture. I went with Mr. Gee to present the donation cheque at Prince Charles School in October. I felt proud helping others. Being a good neighbour is an important part of Islam.

In December, our grade 4 classes led a project called Giving Gratitude. We collected hundreds of new winter gloves, scarves, hats, and socks for the less fortunate. The donations were sent to Boyle Street Community Services and to NISA Homes, a local women’s shelter. We also collected a van load of food items for the IFSSA Food Bank in Edmonton. The above charity work made us feel proud as responsible citizens. Helping people is fundamental to the principles of Islam, and this is why Jenna and I chose to feature Cenovus Energy’s Indigenous Housing Initiative in northern Alberta.

Please summarize your experience in researching this project?

Cenovus Energy is a large oil and gas company that was founded in December 2009. Its headquarter is located in Calgary, Alberta. On January 30, 2020, Cenovus Energy announced that they are donating $50,000,000 to 6 northern Alberta Indigenous communities. Their goal is to build 200 homes in these communities. The community members in these regions are experiencing a housing crisis. There is a lack of available housing. As a result, many homes are overcrowded. As well, many homes have mold and lead pipes, and this is unsafe.

After 2 years, Cenovus Energy has made significant progress with their Indigenous Housing Initiative. Jenna and I interviewed Mr. Troy Peterson. Mr. Peterson is the Senior Indigenous Housing Initiative Specialist with Cenovus Energy. In 2021, Cenovus Energy built 34 homes in 5 communities. In total, 46 new homes were built in 2020 and 2021 despite the challenges of working around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cenovus Energy is currently aiming to complete construction for another 46 homes in 2022 in all 6 northern Indigenous communities. Despite the rising costs of building materials, construction is steady and stable. Mr. Peterson shared this important message in our interview:

“The COVID pandemic has affected all businesses. To ensure that the program builds as many homes as it can, we have chosen to extend the program’s schedule. Originally the program was scheduled from 2020-2024. We now expect to complete the program in 2026.”

COVID-19 did not slow down Cenovus Energy’s determination to help with housing in northern Alberta. Jenna and I are amazed with this announcement. Rather than just letting the COVID-19 pandemic slow down the construction, Cenovus Energy’s extension means more people can get new homes and time will not run out. Construction does not have to rush because everyone’s safety is important.

How did you personally connect to this project?

Jenna and I practice the religion Islam. Islam means peace. Throughout the year, our school has led initiatives that help the community. For our heritage fair project, we wanted to help raise the awareness level and share the message that many northern Albertan communities are having housing challenges. Along with developing our research and communication skills, Jenna and I decided to apply our sewing skills. We made 18 handmade pillows to show our support to the Indigenous communities of Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Chard Metis (Local 218), Conklin Metis (Local 193), Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Cold Lake First Nation, and Heart Lake First Nation. We chose the shape of a circle for the pillows because a circle represents equality and fairness. We have learned that the circle itself is sacred among First Nations people. The circle can represent healing, gatherings of people, family structure, meetings, songs, and dances. Pillows symbolize comfort.

Jenna and I gathered a group of students from Grades 4, 5, and 6. Together, we made orange pillows and posters for each of the 6 northern Indigenous communities that Cenovus Energy is building homes. We want to share the message that we support you with hope and that– Every Child Matters. The legacy of residential schools in Canada is a sad and dark one. People are still healing, and it is hard to read about the new potential of unmarked graves of missing children in northern Alberta such as the one at St. Bernard’s mission in Grouard. Our goal is to show support to everyone.

What are your conclusions about your topic?

Cenovus Energy is an agent of hope. The Indigenous Housing Initiative is keeping families safe and together during these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is important because many northern families have unsafe drinking water and mold in their homes. The Indigenous Housing Initiative serves as a reminder that we are stronger when we work together. Helen Keller wrote “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Jenna and I gathered a team of grade 4, 5, and 6 students because we know that we can have a more powerful impact by spreading the awareness level for the need of housing in northern Alberta.

Once again, thank you Mr. Alex Pourbaix and Cenovus Energy for being a leader in First Nations reconciliation. Jenna and I would like to thank Mr. Trent Zacharias and Mr. Troy Peterson for accepting our email interview. We are grateful for the opportunity to conduct a first-hand interview with you. Our interview along with your Indigenous Housing Initiative construction photos served as our primary source in our research. We hope that your initiative lasts 10 years because our communities will be better across Alberta.