“We can either give you coal or we can give you wind.” So spoke first Native American, Robert Gough, Rosebud Tribal Attorney. So hopes Winona LaDuke, whose work with the Indigenous Women’s Network and Indigenous Environmental Network, has informed and galvanized awareness and action here and around the world.
Ms. LaDuke sees a transformation of energy production from Indian reservations, which contribute ten percent of our nation’s conventional energy resources — coal, oil, gas and uranium, to renewable energy.
In a beautifully illustrated and factual 50 page booklet, she traces the history of energy development “in Indian country,” and the terrible legacy of confiscation, looting, royalty underpayment, toxic lands and dying uranium workers. Even today, Indian tribes provide large supplies of energy and water resources to power the nation’s electric grid but receive little in commensurate economic benefit.
She writes: “The Tribes in the Four Corners states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah provide the mineral and water resources that supply Southern California with one quarter of its electricity supply.” Yet Indian consumers, as on the Navajo lands, pay among the highest electricity rates in the country and have the highest percentage of homes without electricity.
But “things are changing” declares LaDuke. They better. Just reading through her report on the nearly 1200 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo reservation that still expose the areas to radio active contamination, or the July 1979 disaster when a dam holding uranium tailings broke pouring 100 million gallons of radioactive water in to the Rio Puerco and ColoradoRivers, demonstrate the quest of her project Honor the Earth — the Sun’s many forms of renewable energy and the efficient use of energy.
Indian reservations are being eyed as dumping grounds for nuclear waste, especially the lands of the Western Shoshone territory in Nevada. LaDuke has a map of existing dumps and proposed dumps. She then takes the reader through coal country and the impact of the many dams built on Indian lands, the loss of salmon runs, the land erosion in the U.S. and Canada.
Next is the section on Alaska, thinly populated, but already the fourth most polluted state in the country. Alaska, the land of the earlier and earlier ice melts with forthcoming environmental consequences on wildlife and human life receiving less attention than a misbehaving actor.
On page 34 Winona LaDuke starts her trademark style — showing how dire and costly conditions can be transformed. A renewable future for the Seventh Generation, she foresees, far longer than the short term objectives of Exxon/Mobil. The tribes are organizing around a better deal, around a future of wind power of which the reservations possess a great deal continually. Wind energy, she writes, “is now the fastest-growing renewable energy source across the country.” North Dakota alone “has enough winds Class 4 and higher to supply 36% of the electricity needs of the lower forty-eight states.” She has a graphic description of both wind resources and the wind projects underway on Indian lands.
Then there are the pages on “Solar Energy.” Here she integrates the ancient traditions of the Tribes with the deployment of photovoltaic solar panels and the revolving loan funds to finance them for the communities. She is all about democratizing power production and becoming self-reliant while helping to convert the nation to survivable and sustainable energy futures.
If you wish to spread the alarms and hopes of this startling yet engrossing report, bulk copies at affordable rates are available from the website: www.honorearth.org or call 1-800-Earth-07.