To accomplish the green energy goals he talked about in his inaugural address, President Obama must work with Native Americans.
“Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet,” the president said, vowing that “we will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”
To realize these goals, Obama’s administration must collaborate with Native American tribes to realize their vast wind and solar power potential. For instance, using solar power alone, Native lands have the potential to generate about 4.5 times the amount of electricity that is produced in the entire United States. Tribal wind resources could provide a double digit percentage of the country’s electricity, as well.
In addition, a green jobs initiative could transition the most wasteful economy in the world into one that has a chance at surviving, all while providing economic development where it’s needed most. By working with Native American tribes, the Obama administration can catalyze the development of tremendous human and economic potential in some of the country’s poorest communities.
For too many years, Washington presented tribes with a false choice: either develop polluting energy resources or remain in dire poverty. Often, the oil and mining companies ripped the tribes off by underpaying royalties, even as they polluted the land. But economic development does not need to come at the expense of Native cultural identity or thriving ecosystems.
The Obama administration should not provide more incentives to extract fossil fuels and uranium from Indian country. These are the dirty resources of yesterday. They have assaulted the well-being of tribes and Alaska Native villages, exploiting the vulnerabilities of poor, politically isolated communities for too long. Oil drilling in sensitive Arctic regions threatens Alaska Natives’ way of life and perpetuates Washington’s addiction to oil. We need a federal timeout on the proposed offshore development of the Outer Continental Shelf areas in Alaska.
Nor is “clean coal” the answer. Mining coal is never clean. Coal plant emissions cause global warming. Obama should not approve coal expansion on or near Native lands. Carbon “sequestration” is unproven. There is no sure way to sequester “forever” – except to leave it in the earth.
And nuclear power is not a solution to anything. Mining uranium has caused high levels of cancer deaths among Native peoples. (There are still 1,000 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo reservation from the last nuclear era.) What’s more, nuclear waste contaminates the earth for a hundred thousand years.
The Obama administration must end corporate welfare to coal, gas, oil and nuclear industries and redirect the billions in subsidies to clean energy development and efficiency in Native America.
Native American and Alaskan Native peoples have suffered the most from our senseless carbon-based energy policy. For example, the entire indigenous village of Shishmaref in Alaska will need to relocate because of rising temperatures and nastier storms, ruining the way of life there.
To turn things around, the Obama administration should provide funding for wind and solar development on Native lands along with efficiency improvements in tribal housing.
Tribally owned and operated renewable energy projects, along with green jobs that help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, are central to a sustainable and affordable low-carbon future.
A green jobs economy and a new, forward-thinking energy and climate policy will transform tribal and other rural economies and provide the basis for a robust and sustainable recovery.
Now is the time.
Winona LaDuke is the executive director of Honor the Earth, a Native organization that stresses sustainable environmental policies. Honor the Earth submitted an extended version of this information to the Obama administration’s transition team with allies Intertribal Council On Utility Policy, Indigenous Environmental Network and the International Indian Treaty Council. LaDuke can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.