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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

For many tribes, the long-term goal is to control their own energy rather than relying on the long-established revenue model of leasing their land to a private company that would develop the energy resources and reap most of the profits.
 
“It’s the idea of sovereignty,” said Thomas Sacco, manager of the Department of Energy’s Tribal Energy Program (TEP), which provides financial support, training and technical assistance to tribes developing renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. “You’re not sovereign unless you’re controlling your energy future.”
 
A division of the Dept. of Energy, TEP is one of the biggest sources of funding for tribes, with a current $10 million budget—a $4 million, or two-thirds, increase over last year.
 
“We think this indicates that Congress understands the needs for additional funds to assist Indian Country and perhaps that the TEP is doing an effective job in providing services to Indian Country,” said Sacco.
 
The Green Jobs Act of 2007 also provided $125 million for training, targeting low-income communities. Small tribal enterprises may qualify for U.S. Department of Agriculture grants for rural businesses. More recently, the Recovery Act has provided several energy-related opportunities for Native Americans. Tribes in more than 575 towns were selected to receive $55 million in DOE block grants for energy efficiency and conservation programs, and another $27.5 million for renewable energy, weatherization and smart grid projects.
 
“The stimulus money is being used by and large for energy efficiency and strategy, so that’s been a godsend for many tribes,” said Sacco. Some tribes contract with public universities, industry and nonprofit organizations to provide training. Tribal colleges are other important training sites.
 
So far, however, stimulus funding has not translated into rapid green job growth, according to Cristala Mussato-Allen, the director of the nonprofit organization Native Workplace, Inc. in Austin, Texas, which advises tribes about green jobs and provides training opportunities. While the Recovery Act has started to create more green jobs in Indian Country, bureaucracy and cumbersome reporting requirements are delaying processing of funds.
 
In some cases, Mussato-Allen said, a year or more has passed before an applicant receives stimulus money. And without ready funding for native businesses to train and employ tribal members, the green energy industry’s potential to keep money in the communities is diminished. 
 
“When an outside contractor comes in, they...make that money and then it leaves, so we don’t have sustainable economies in our communities,” said Mussato-Allen.  “We want to build an Indian economy, we want to foster a native workforce and native-owned businesses, where the dollar turns over and over, five or six times before it leaves.”

Image: Floyd Muad'Dib via flickr Creative Commons license

See Also:

Congress Awakening to Renewables on Native Lands, Advocates Say

Native Americans Left Out of America’s Wind Power Boom

Navajo Nation Approves First Tribal 'Green Jobs' Legislation

Tribal Councils in U.S. and Canada Uniting Against Oil Sands Pipeline

Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010 Introduced into Senate

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