A "New Era" for Indian Country?

 

"The Indian Nations can do the work--if the federal government will clear the way for us to exercise our liberty and thus make a new era and a more perfect union."

That was Jefferson Keel yesterday, President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), in his State of Indian Nations Address.  His point, very basically, was that tribal sovereignty could be America's economic life vest.  Tribal land contains 10 percent of the nation's energy resources, renewables included, and it's largely untapped.  Clear away the bureaucratic hurdles, invest in the right infrastructure, and the Indian Nations could keep the national grid pumping while generating jobs back home.

Keel praised Energy Secretary Steven Chu for his 10 million dollar investment to support efficiency and renewable energy development through the Tribal Energy Program.  He also lauded a recent move by the Department of Interior to streamline permitting for energy development on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, allowing the tribes access to their vast oil reserves.  He said these were the kinds of "concerted efforts" he hoped the incoming Congress would continue to pursue.

 

Tribal lands may be well stocked with energy, but fourteen percent of households in Indian Country still lack electricity, according to a Center for American Progress report released after Keel's address.  Here's an excerpt:

 

One of the greatest barriers to deploying clean energy on tribal lands is a longstanding backlog of bureaucratic red tape and outdated laws that cause projects to stall and makes financing cost ineffective. Many tribes are eager to partner with private sector developers in order to build large-scale clean energy projects that are both profitable and respectful of tribal values such as environmental stewardship and keeping families together by providing good jobs on reservations.

 

The report sings the same sovereignty tune, but makes no mention of coal, oil or gas--resources that tribes, (and private companies,) also could develop if tribal governments had greater jurisdiction over their reserves.

That's okay by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who delivered the Congressional response.  She emphasized her "all of the above energy approach," and said that Indian Lands must be a large part of the federal energy plan.

Murkowski and Keel didn't shy away from the statistics: in Indian Country, rates of unemployment, poverty, and violence--particularly toward women--are still far higher than the national average.  But both seem to think that opening reservation gates to energy development, extractive or otherwise, could be the tribes' saving grace.

Federal-aided energy extraction in Indian Country is not a new story. Only four years ago, after the Navajo Nation banned uranium mining its lands, the federal U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission still endorsed three Hydro Resources Inc. uranium mines within Navajo boundaries. And long before that, it was a U.S. attorney who designed the sale of 65,000 acres of Hopi and Navajo mineral rights to Peabody Western Coal, forcing the relocation of 10,000 indigenous people.

If the past repeats itself, then Keel's "new era" may not stray far from the last.

Sierra Crane-Murdoch is an HCN intern.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user, U.S. National Archives

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000