I’m a member of the Choctaw tribe, and have experienced a connection to nature my whole life, both as a Choctaw, and as someone who lives in the Oklahoma town that is the Chickasaw tribe headquarters. Both tribes have a long history of protecting the environment. Now they are leading by example and creating clean renewable energy projects.
The Choctaw Nation made the move to purchase wind energy for all of its energy needs in 2010. And my first experience with solar panels was seeing them in my hometown on the Chickasaw Nation’s medical facility as a child, many years before the recent push for clean energy.
While land is being taken from tribes in the name of dirty energy – a fight we all became acutely aware of between the Dakota Access Pipeline and the people of Standing Rock – tribes continue to move towards clean energy.
As America debates how to fix climate change, the people of Standing Rock are taking action. This past February a 300-kilowatt solar array, located just three miles from the pipeline they protested, was completed. This month it will power the Cannon Ball Youth Activity Center and Veterans Memorial Building, the very location that was the site of the pipeline protests in 2016.
Many Native tribes are located in areas that continue to be polluted disproportionately by dirty energy. Tribes are not interested in waiting for the rest of the country to fix the problem. The Spokane Tribe of Indians started a solar initiative. Their reason was also fueled by tragedy.
In 2016, a major fire took out power for days, and destroyed more than 18,000 acres and 14 tribal homes. In response, the Spokane Tribe launched the Children of the Sun Solar Initiative (COSSI). It’s a large-scale project that plans to bring the tribe energy sovereignty.
Another uplifting story comes from the Navajo (Dine) tribe members who started a project called Native Renewables. The project will help bring solar energy to some of the tens of thousands of Navajo people, many who lack access to the electricity grid or running water. The project also aims to bring awareness to the importance of using clean renewable energy.
A joint project between six Sioux tribes is also bringing more renewable energy to Native people. The project is expected to break ground in 2020 and produce one gigawatt of electricity, enough to power more than five hundred thousand homes.
By acting boldly and urgently to keep Native American families safe from the pollution that causes climate change, these ambitious projects help set the stage for the rest of America to move to 100% clean energy by 2050.