Cheap energy for distant population centers means impairing the natural and cultural resources of Native people.
Uranium, coal, oil, and natural gas deposits located on the Colorado Plateau provide cheap energy to distant population centers. Although Native people who live in the region receive some employment and royalty payments, most of the profits benefit nonresident shareholders living in cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix. Extracting fuels from Native lands has forced thousands of people from their homes and desecrated traditional sources of spirituality and sustenance.
Consequently, the region’s rich ecological heritage is also being evermore endangered with each new wave of energy development.
To prevent this devolving spiral, we need a systemic change and an end to extractive-energy economies that are exploiting the Colorado Plateau’s fragile ecosystems while leaving people impoverished. This need is most urgent on Native American lands, which comprise 25 percent of the Colorado Plateau, where unemployment chronically hovers above 40 percent, and where tens of thousands of homes are without electricity and running water. More importantly, there is a need to restore Native citizens’ rights to self-determination and a healthy environment. We must also empower them to participate in new economic opportunities in this era when unprecedented public investments in clean energy are now being made as part of our nation’s economic recovery plan.
President Jimmy Carter sought energy and economic independence for our entire nation during the 1970s. He called for a massive investment in clean energy and set a goal of supplying 20 percent of our electricity from solar power by the year 2000. But vested interests and unforeseen events stalled the transition. Today, the sun supplies about 1 percent of our electricity, and our nation has grown ever more dependent on coal-fired power plants.
The time has come to turn our backs on these behemoths of a bygone era and replace them with clean energy.
As former Hopi Chairman Vernon Masayesva said, “We have the technology, the sun, the land, and the power corridor. It should be a piece of cake.” Former vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke said:
“We need to create a just transition strategy. We need to create a way of life where a community is not forced to cannibalize their mother in order to live. They say Indian reservations could produce half of the presently installed U.S. electrical capacity. We are the richest and most powerful country in the world. We have no absence of resources or technology to do the right thing. What we have is the absence of political will.”
Our region’s people are ravaged by pollution and poverty but bolstered by hope. Together, we can rekindle our economy by making a systematic transition to clean and renewable energy. We can reduce greenhouse gases while investing in sustainable communities. And, we can empower people who were left in the dust by a dangerous and dirty, coal-based economy.