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Tribes Working to Buck Unemployment with Green Jobs

"You’re not sovereign unless you’re controlling your energy future.”

By Autumn Spanne

Nov 7, 2010

“With more solar and geothermal projects coming to fruition, there’ll be a greater shift toward students going into those careers,” said Shendo. “We’re presenting it to them now, but employment opportunities aren’t really there yet. When they can see it and be of part of it, that’ll shift the movement toward green energy jobs.”
 
Hopes for Green Facilities—and Jobs—on Native Lands
 
Tribal lands contain about 10 percent of the nation’s renewable energy supply, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and that presents opportunities for native leaders looking to diversify their tribal economy.

It’s not just about harvesting renewable energy. Many tribes are getting into the business of energy efficiency—retrofitting buildings and homes with new technology like energy conserving lighting and weatherizing older homes so that it takes less energy to retain warm or cool air. Residential and commercial buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of energy consumption in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy.

Jemez Pueblo is far from the only tribe harnessing green energy technologies. Last year the Navajo Nation became the first tribe to pass green jobs legislation, establishing a fund for small-scale green businesses that minimize greenhouse gas emissions and, in many cases, incorporate traditional cultural values. Funding will support renewable energy, traditional agriculture, green manufacturing weatherization and green workforce training. 

The Fort Peck Reservation in Montana is training wind technicians at the local tribal college to run a proposed wind development. The tribe has also taken the first steps in developing a solar panel production facility on the reservation. And on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the two-year-old Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center is installing solar heating in reservation housing and providing training in renewable technologies for tribes from around the country.

Energy Sovereignty Is the Goal

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