TRAHANT REPORTS — It’s easy to dismiss this election. Every day there’s more news about something outrageous that was said by a presidential candidate. Grab the remote. Click. It’s gone and and ignore.
But that’s only one way to think about the 2016 election. Flip the narrative and this is the most interesting and exciting election ever. Especially for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Just look across the country at the sheer number of Native Americans candidates challenging the status quo in races from county commissions to Congress. This much is certain: This is the year of the Native American candidate. If it’s also the year of the Native American voter, well, look out, innovation is ahead.
I have always thought many people with experiences in Native communities have a lot to offer the broader community. I often see creativity and innovation.
South Dakota Democrats nominated Henry Red Cloud as the party’s nominee for a spot on the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Red Cloud, Lakota is the founder and owner of a renewable energy company based in Pine Ridge. “Lakota Solar Enterprises is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe,” the company’s web page says. “We believe that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is important. And on tribal lands, it is imperative. We hope you will join us in helping tribes achieve energy sovereignty.” He calls renewable energy “a new way to honor old ways.”
His company, and associated nonprofit, do that by installing real solar systems into people’s homes. But Red Cloud has said he sees these projects beyond (as important as it is) sustainable energy. He sees this as a route to build a stronger economy within tribal nations.
This is a great story to tell during an election campaign. Voters will be introduced to a creative and innovative energy path that’s creating real jobs now, employing people to build and install solar energy systems. Contrast this with the usual discourse about energy or the nonsense about how climate change isn’t real.
President Obama honored Red Cloud for his work in 2014 as a “Champion of Change.”
Red Cloud told The Associated Press he is “honored” by the nomination and is “eager to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing consumers and utility companies in South Dakota.”
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission in January certified the Keystone XL pipeline route through the state. The agency said at the time that if a presidential permit is issued, and then “the pipeline is built, the PUC will monitor the progress to ensure the construction conditions are met.” In other words: This is a critical agency for pipelines and energy planning.
And, unfortunately, this is where that presidential race creeps back into the process. The next president could think differently about Keystone XL than President Obama. Plus there is a new challenge based on free trade.
But this is also why this election is so important. Red Cloud is running for the regulatory post and next door, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, is seeking a seat on the three-member North Dakota Public Services Commission. The Public Service Commission regulates the oil and gas industry as well as telecommunications, weights and measures, and pipelines. In January the agency approved the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Previous: Pipelines, rail cars, and the price of oil.)
Red Cloud and Hunte-Beaubrun are two of five Native American candidates across the country running for statewide office. And on the front lines (or is that the front desk?) of making decisions about pipelines, energy policy and climate change.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.