Native Power Struggles

Energy profiteers may be creating an illusion of Native American independence

| November 16, 2006

None of us seem to know where our energy fix will come from after the oil wells run dry. Solar, wind, and hydroelectric power are all options, and the government and energy industry have cast an eye on Native American soil as ground to experiment with alternative energy. But these lands are also flush with oil, coal, and natural gas, causing some to wonder if space for turbines is all they want.

According to a piece by Brenda Norrell in Indian Country Today, the 2005 Energy Policy Act encourages investment in renewable energy on reservations through 'incentives' and looser federal restrictions on tribe's lands. And though supporters say business investments will increase Native American sovereignty, economic development, and the expansion of renewable energy sources, critics point out that the energy bill also withdraws important government protections on the land, which could enable big business to exploit native territories.

In LiP Magazine, Brian Awehali writes that the US government and energy industry may not mind erecting a few wind turbines on tribal territory if it means they also get access to the other fuel sources locked up in those lands. As Awehali notes, one section in Title V of the 2005 Energy Policy Act gives the government 'power to grant rights of way through Indian lands without permission from Indian tribes, if deemed to be in the strategic interests of an energy-related project.' And Clayton Thomas-Muller, organizer of the Indigenous Environment Network's Native Energy Campaign, claims that in addition to eliminating the protections of the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, the new act promotes sending nuclear waste to Indian lands and mining more uranium from them. ''As usual,' a former tribal chairman tells Indian Country Today, 'energy companies will kill our pig, skin it, take the meat - mostly at government expense - and leave us with bones and hooves.''

Go there >> Federal Energy Bill, Economic Opportunity or Bush's Fire Sale?

Go there too >> Native Energy Futures

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