In 2010, WEA and a team of advocacy delegates traveled to the Southwestern United States to meet grassroots Native American women environmental justice campaign leaders, as part of an Advocacy Exchange to Promote Energy Justice in the Navajo Nation.
After powerful dialogue with Black Mesa Water Coalition, Indigenous Environmental Network, Grand Canyon Trust, Indigenous Community Enterprises, Dine’ College, IINA Solutions, and others, WEA’s team returned home ready to act. Delegates included women leaders from Green for All, Dominican University’s Green MBA, the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, and International Accountability Project.
Meet the Women Leaders
During our five-day journey from Flagstaff, Arizona to Shiprock, New Mexico, our team met front-line leaders of the Dine’ movement for a just transition from fossil fuels to sustainability. These courageous women and men generously shared their stories, struggles and strategies with us, together describing a shared vision for an end to the U.S.’ reliance on dirty power derived from indigenous lands, and a turning towards the abundant solar, wind and non-polluting energy potential of tribal lands.
“Our goal is to care for our communities and for the land. We are here to protect our Mother Earth and our people, we don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. What we are working on now is to install solar panels on abandoned mine lands. There is a lot of reclamation land on Black Mesa and we asked, what can we do with this destroyed land and how can we give back to the community”.
AT A GLANCE
The Navajo Nation’s unemployment rate hovers around 54% and the population’s average income is $7,500/year. While utility lines run right over our heads, 18,000 Navajo households live without electricity.*
Tribal communities across the Colorado Plateau face daunting problems: loss of language and culture; 50% unemployment rates; lasting and damaging impacts of past uranium mining; dependence on revenues from endangered power plants and coal mines; and ever-increasing impacts of global warming.*
"The process of transferring political will, resources, and community focus from a fossil fuel-based economy on tribal lands to a green economy is as complex as it sounds. And it’s happening."
— TAYLOR PATTINSON, 2010 WEA ADVOCACY DELEGATE
The law is a powerful and respected tool, yet it is also disembodied, linear, and based in a fragmented view of the world. Litigation is, and has historically been, a useful component of many community-based action strategies, but not all community groups have the legal training that could assist them in their struggles. Grassroots movements are in great need of the legal skills that our delegates possess. These hand-selected delegates came ready to use their training, skills, resources and expertise as true agents of change.
The Transformative Advocacy delegation offered grassroots leaders and women attorneys the opportunity to come together, to listen, to be transformed, and to be moved to action — to collaborate in ways that combine practical, on-the-ground knowledge with technical, legal assistance in order to strengthen the robust and dynamic environmental justice movements underway in Native American communities throughout the Southwest.
WEA believes that direct interface can provide access to critical human and informational resources, stimulate needed advocacy efforts, provoke important internal inquiry about respectful and committed interaction among people with diverse backgrounds, and strengthen the larger environmental justice movement through awareness-raising and networking. It is our intention that these connective experiences serve as a foundation for sustained engagement between professionally trained women lawyers and grassroots women leaders, wherein skills are put to use in a timely, appropriate and effective way within the container of our WEA Advocacy Network. This provided an opportunity for women with legal training to deeply listen to Native American leaders, interrogate their own “blind spots” regarding cross-cultural relationships, and within the context of those experiences provide useful advocacy services into the long-term.
Special thanks to Caitlin Sislin for her leadership in this Project