Most Native Americans – particularly those on remote federal trust reservations – have never been blessed with adequate, dependable energy. This is certainly true of my people, the Hopi Tribe, who live on an arid and isolated 1.6 million-acre homeland in Northern Arizona.
Power outages are commonplace in our homes, businesses and government offices. We are plagued by service providers who have no incentive to upgrade antiquated equipment and transmission lines that break down in the mildest of storms.
And the costs are far too high. The Hopi have few dollars left at the end of the month to pay exorbitant electricity and fuel bills.
Our situation is ironic and terribly unjust, as the Hopi reservation is home to a massive reserve of coal. Millions of tons of high quality coal lie beneath the surface of our vast homeland.
There is no reason why Hopi cannot generate all of its energy needs while producing power for off-reservation consumer markets. Indeed, that is our goal for the coming decade; to create an energy-based economy that will provide future generations of Hopi with jobs and opportunity.
The same is true of other tribal nations with significant land bases. We all have the capacity to generate all or at least a significant portion of our energy needs. We all have the ability to become energy independent.
Instead of being consumers of energy, indigenous people must become producers of power. We must utilize our precious coal, oil and mineral resources to provide affordable, reliable energy to Indian people and off-reservation consumer markets, in the process generating jobs and opportunity for our people.
No longer need the Hopi and other tribes be victims of unfair contractual agreements for coal and mineral resources negotiated decades ago by corrupt energy and government officials.
We are the ones who should control the supply, delivery and price of energy. It would be created with our own resources, from production facilities owned, staffed and managed by American Indians.
In addition, we must use our energy resources to play a significant role in the emerging national tribal economy.
And, most important, tribal nations must do our part in the establishment of a U.S. policy on energy that encourages the development of renewable energy and reduces our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
Solving power needs
Many tribes, including the Hopi, can build economies based on coal, oil or gas. Others can explore renewable energy such as wind or solar power.
The Hopi Tribe’s land and energy task teams have discussed with various firms partnerships in wind and solar energy. A wind farm project on Hopi land east of Flagstaff is before Coconino County planning officials for approval.
As Native people, we have a responsibility to promote energy sources which protect and preserve our environment.
Hopi coal development in the coming years will likely include emerging clean coal technologies that produce little or no harmful air emissions and technologies that use far less water than conventional generation.
We are exploring coal-based energy products that actually contribute to a cleaner environment, products such as high quality low-emission diesel fuel and the important fuel additive, ethanol. Indeed, the tribe’s land and energy teams have already discussed potential joint ventures with manufacturers of ethanol and bio-diesels.
Playing a role in tribal and national economy
The Hopi and other energy-generating tribal nations should be an influential partner in the emergence of a national tribal economy; a network thus far fueled largely by casino gambling, but which will eventually involve all goods and services, including energy production.
Meanwhile, we should encourage Native nations and the federal government to create a joint energy policy for the entire country that calls for utilization of the vast resources on tribal lands.
First Americans should play a major role in resolving the great uncertainties surrounding national energy and economic issues. American Indians and non-Indians alike have a real stake in reducing our heavy reliance on foreign oil as the backbone of our energy policy. We cannot continue to put our economic future into the hands of politically unstable and philosophically radical nations.
In our quest for energy independence, however, we must not lose sight of the need to maintain an environmental balance. As Indian people we understand the need to protect our environment. The desire to develop our energy resources must not overtake our need to protect our natural resources.
The nation’s energy policy must address the issue of financing energy research, development, production and delivery. Creative ways of ramping up private sector investment must be included in any such policy and any legislation that stems from that policy.
Tax incentives in support of energy production have always been an important ingredient in energy development. As tribal leaders, we must make the arguments for tax incentives that will move a significant part of the national energy investment onto the reservations where a great deal of untapped energy potential now lies dormant.
A federal energy policy that focuses in part on Indian energy development must also look for ways of giving the tribes more control over their own energy development initiatives. We must have the ability to move a project quickly from concept to design and implementation with the least amount of red tape.
We have the tools and the resources to do the job. It is time to begin.
Wayne Taylor Jr. is chairman and CEO of the Hopi Tribe.