A clean-energy advocate and former V.P. candidate answers questions
What environmental organizations are you affiliated with?
What do your organizations do?
Honor the Earth’s mission is to create awareness and support for indigenous environmental issues and to leverage needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable indigenous communities. Honor the Earth develops these resources by using music, the arts, media, and indigenous wisdom to ask people to recognize our joint dependency on the earth and be a voice for those who are not heard.
White Earth Land Recovery Project is working to recover the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, while preserving and restoring traditional practices of sound land stewardship, language fluency, and community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage.
What’s your job title?
Program director at Honor the Earth and founding director at WELRP.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
I am a mother of three children and I take care of five. I’m on the road a lot speaking — one day I might be meeting with local community activists, opposing the latest corporate proposal that threatens their homes, and the next day I could be giving a speech on a college campus about wild rice and patents on life.
Where do you live now?
I live on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.
Who is your environmental nightmare?
The Bush/Cheney team.
What are your thoughts on having been Ralph Nader’s running mate in 2000?
I am honored to have run with Ralph twice. I support his candidacy as I think he has an impeccable political career. I think this is a democracy and anyone who wants to run for office should be able to run. If we want to build a progressive political movement in this country, we should encourage people to run. If you don’t want to vote for Ralph, then don’t. If you want to get Bush out of office, you had better get people out to vote.
What important environmental issue is being overlooked?
The United States is the largest energy market in the world and is undeniably addicted to energy consumption. The U.S. even allows oil-based fertilizers and herbicides to be slathered on our food crops. Public policy and law often offer preferential treatment to large energy corporations. The unequal allocation of power is reflected in the relationship between the United States and Native America. Many of the U.S.’s “domestic” energy resources originate in Native America. As a consequence, Native America suffers from disproportionate extraction of non-renewable resources on tribal lands and the resulting disastrous toxic and environmental effects. Economic hardship leads many tribal treasuries into committing to being fed by energy-resource royalties.
For decades, uranium mining has laid to waste vast areas of land and aquifers in the Northwest and Southwest. There are more than 1,100 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Reservation, increasing the contamination of an arid region. Tribal lands are also targets for coal development, hosting four of the 10 largest coal strip mines in the U.S. Proposed coal methane developments would contaminate the groundwater of enormous regions including the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Over the years, tribes have been inundated by major dam projects ranging from the Columbia River in the Northwest to the Great Plains and on into James Bay in the North. Native villages and tribes are also deeply affected by oil-development proposals for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Gwich’in) and the massive nuclear waste dump planned for Yucca Mountain in Nevada (Western Shoshone).
Honor the Earth has worked for more than a decade with these front-line groups to oppose further destruction of their land and way of life. We are interested both in addressing the economic issues posed by energy-development choices in Native America, and in challenging tribal governments to move toward a renewable-energy agenda. We are also interested in democratizing power production. The first Native American-owned and -operated large-scale turbine in the country went on line in February 2003 — the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s 750-kilowatt wind turbine.
Indian country has unemployment rates of 50 percent or more and could benefit both from small-scale assembly work and from the potential for renewable energy’s job creation in rural areas. Investing in alternative energy is investing in jobs, since the fuel supply is from the Creator. The European Union estimates that 2.77 jobs are created for every megawatt of wind power produced, 7.24 jobs per megawatt in solar, and 5.67 jobs per megawatt in geothermal. Or, in short, 1,000 megawatts of alternative energy averages 6,000 jobs, or 60 times more high-paying jobs than in fossil fuels and nuclear power. That is basically the difference between putting money back into the community or putting it into the pockets of utilities and energy companies.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
“If you are here because you feel sorry for me, you are wasting your time, but if you are here because your life and destiny are linked with mine, then we will make a difference …” — Elizabeth Penashue, an Innu elder
Don’t spend your time talking about political work — act today.