A network of over 250 Native American organizations recently issued an important challenge to the Obama administration for any green recovery plan: Look to the First Nations.

The reality is that the most efficient, green economy will need the vast wind and solar resources that lie on Native American lands. This provides the foundation of not only a green low carbon economy but also catalyzes development of tremendous human and economic potential in the poorest community in the United States — Native America.

As the recent scandalous decision to expand coal strip mining on Black Mesa in northern Arizona revealed, Native Americans have been saddled with a toxic legacy of fossil fuel and uranium development.

According to the statement released by the Native organizations, including Honor the Earth, Intertribal Council On Utility Policy, International Indian Treaty Council, and Indigenous Environmental Network:

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Mines and electrical generation facilities have had devastating health and cultural impacts in Indian country at all stages of the energy cycle- cancer from radioactive mining waste to respiratory illness caused by coal-fired power plant and oil refinery air emissions on and near Native lands.

Native communities have been targeted in all proposals for long-term nuclear waste storage. When considering energy and climate change policy, it is important that the White House and federal agencies consider the history of energy and mineral exploitation and tribes, and the potential to create a dramatic change with innovative policies. Too often tribes are presented with a false choice: either develop polluting energy resources or remain in dire poverty.

Recognizing that unemployment and poverty rates on Indian reservations are twice the national average and that a large part of reservation housing is energy inefficient and lacks adequate weatherization, the Native groups called for federal support to “own and operate a new crop of renewable electricity generating infrastructure providing the dual benefits of low carbon power and green economic development where it is needed most.”

This means more green jobs and clean energy training programs at tribal colleges and institutions, financial support for efficiency in federal fuel assistance programs and for installation of solar heating panels and other innovations that deflect rising fuel costs, recognition of the production tax credit for renewable projects on tribal lands, and a renewable energy investment tax credit for tribes to attract investors that have tax credits.

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Here’s the news flash: Expanding the green economies in Native communities could have a massive impact on solving our national energy needs. According to studies cited by the Native organizations:

  • Tribal lands have an estimated 535 billion kWh/year of wind power generation potential.
  • Tribal lands have an estimated 17,000 billion kWh/year of solar electricity generation potential, about 4.5 times total U.S. annual generation.
  • Investing in renewable energy creates more jobs per dollar invested than fossil fuel energy.
  • Efficiency creates 21.5 jobs for every $1 million invested.
  • The costs of fuel for wind and solar power can be projected into the future, providing a unique opportunity for stabilizing an energy intensive economy.

Ten years ago, in her brilliant chronicle, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, author Winona LaDuke examined long-time Native endeavors for sustainable green development, often in resistance to full scale assaults of environmental and cultural destruction. LaDuke called for closing the circle between western science and Native traditions: “Those who watch carefully — onaanaagadawaa-bandanaawaa — know that this will require a technological, cultural and legal transformation.”

A massive green energy and jobs infusion on Indian reservations would be a first step in that transformation for our nation.

Or, as poet Simon Ortiz wrote in from Sand Creek:

This America
has been a burden
of steel and mad
but, look now;
there are flowers
and new grass
and a spring wind
rising from Sand Creek