Promoting Energy Justice on Navajo Nation

WEA Advocacy DelegateThe refrigerator in my hotel room hums and two lamps illuminate my fully charged MacBook as I type these words on the first evening of WEA’s Fall 2010 Advocacy Delegation, Promoting Energy Justice on the Navajo Nation. A weighty glass jar of clean, blessedly drinkable water sits close at hand… water I filled up in the bathroom sink… sacred water, as all water is. Surrounded by these elements of nature – electricity and water – I am brought face to face with a reality that cannot be ignored: we in the United States are extremely privileged to have the convenience of relatively “cheap” access to these life supporting resources. Today’s discussions amongst our WEA delegates and the directors of Grand Canyon Trust here in Flagstaff, Arizona, dug into the decade old history of how both the Hopi and Navajo (Dine) tribes are involved in long standing, passionate, and dedicated efforts to protect the very elements of life we in modern cities take for such granted. And to transform their economy into one that will not compromise present and future generations’ rights to a clean environment and a just society.


My phone just sounded a digital tune and shut itself off, needing to be plugged in for the night, charged up by that handy electrical outlet I could easily dismiss as just a natural service of existence. The dull constriction I feel in my chest at the thought that the electricity in this room is most likely coming from one of the coal fired power plants on the nearby Navajo reservation is a visceral reflection of the pain felt by thousands of native people in this area who have been disenfranchised for too long over the treatment of their homelands.
5057856445_5c7f3d42cd_bHow would I, or any of us feel differently if we knew that our energy came from the flow of the four winds spinning a turbine? Or from the collection of unlimited, celestially sent sunshine? Can you imagine the relief you would feel in your bones to know that your best intentions of living well in this world, of enjoying and communicating with your family and friends, of learning and working, of simply relaxing in your own home were all supported by forms of clean energy generation that respect the earth and honor the beautiful mystery of creation?

This is what the people of the Hopi and Navajo nations are striving to bring to their communities. Fundamentally, a green economy goes along with the teachings of their ancestors and how their entire cultures have lived for centuries. In all actuality, through their ancient ceremonial practices, they have a profoundly intimate relationship with the sun and the wind. It is only appropriate that their economy would be based on them.

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.5057860663_31c61c14c0_b

In 2005, several grassroots as well as national organizations came together as the Just Transition Coalition to steward the transition. Step by step, meeting-by-meeting, grassroots groups are following the path to a sustainable economic future that does not rely on extractive, toxic, and short-sited mining activities. There is still a long way to go and tremendous work to be done to build capacity and alliances. Yet to be honest, I feel a lot of palpable hope.

After having first learned about the massively unethical operations of Peabody Coal Mine on the Black Mesa ten years ago when I was a wide eyed college student with a bleeding heart, it feels immensely fortifying to my heart to return to this sacred region of the country and find that in my absence, members of the tribes, many of them bright and motivated youth, have stood up, spoken out, joined forces, and been victorious with many of the issues facing the total health of their communities. As self-determined groups, they have organized and pursued initiatives to both stop destructive activities on their lands as well as work towards alternative mechanisms to meet their basic and economic needs. Native-owned and co-owned businesses, including utility providers, are a key leverage points in reclaiming power and autonomy.

When the chief components of maintaining their lives, such as energy production, agriculture, manufacturing, governance, education, and water management, are back in native hands, much greater balance can be kept in all respects. It will be healing for the whole country and the whole world for there to be environmental justice in these communities. In this way, the cultural knowledge and traditions will continue to flourish and be preserved. Deeply rooted ethics of land management, of honoring earth’s cycles, and of engaging the whole community dynamically is what nature intended and what these indigenous tribes naturally tend towards.

Our delegation is here to listen and prepare to offer the tools we carry in solidarity with an effort that is truly critical to the well being of all our relations. Please stay tuned for updates from our Advocacy Delegation!


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