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Green efforts showcased on Earth Day

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Tribes lead efforts to utilize alternative energy sources

WASHINGTON - American Indians across America celebrated Earth Day April 22 and used the day to showcase tribal efforts that demonstrate a variety of green energy and conservation programs to preserve and improve reservation lands and the overall environment.

An ongoing concern and respect for the environment has long been a tenet of Native culture. As Chief Seattle so eloquently noted more than 150 years ago, ''Man did not weave the web of life - he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.''

In Indian country, it is said that work done today should provide a better life for the next seven generations. In keeping with that philosophy, tribes have made long-term investments in environmentally friendly projects funded, in large part, by resources from Indian gaming.

For example, a tribe leading the charge in this arena is the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians of California. Years ago, the tribe recognized the need for a well-conceived, environmentally sound industry to diversify its economy.

Their reservation, located on four sections of noncontiguous land on the eastern half of the Coachella Valley in Riverside County, is approximately 25 miles east of Palm Springs. It comprises 1,500 acres and currently has the seventh highest residential electricity rates among U.S. American Indian reservations.

The tribe set aside a 590-acre area of its reservation for a resource recovery park. Cabazon now operates Colmac Energy Inc., a biomass-fueled power generation plant, and First Nation Recovery Inc., a crumb rubber manufacturer from old tires.

Another tribe, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, located near Prior Lake, Minn., has invested in a venture that generates electricity using waste from malting and food processing. This biomass generation project is environmentally friendly, cleaner than coal, and will someday provide enough energy for all the tribe's needs and still have excess energy available for sale.

In Albuquerque, N.M., Sacred Power Corp., located at the Indian Pueblo Center, is a Native-owned and -operated small business with a charter to provide renewable and distributive energy and telecommunications solutions. The company's goal is to end the dependence on polluting energy sources and convert to renewable technologies that provide clean, long-term solutions.

NIGA's chairman, Ernest Stevens Jr., is committed to promoting Indian country's commitment to alternative energy sources.

''Indian country is committed to the development of alternative energy resources,'' he said. ''Indian tribes have a strong commitment to energy independence for Indian country and our nation as a whole.''

The Tribal Energy Program, under the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, provides financial and technical assistance to tribes for feasibility studies and shares the cost of implementing sustainable renewable energy installations on tribal lands.

Through this program, hundreds of tribes have built tribal capacity to manage their energy, assessed the feasibility of energy efficiency and renewable energy installations, and demonstrated the viability of installing renewable energy on tribal lands.

Mohegan Chairman Bruce ''Two Dogs'' Bozsum said: ''For the Mohegan Tribe, events like Earth Day are not an end onto themselves, but a way to remind and renew our commitments to that cause. For generation upon generation, the members of the Mohegan Tribe have understood that protecting the environment is part of our greater obligation to honor our past, strengthen our present, and work toward a better and brighter future - not only for our children, but for all children.''

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., is now a special policy adviser at the law firm of Alston and Bird LLP and a leading advocate for the development of renewable energy projects in Indian country.

As he recently noted at NIGA's annual tradeshow and meeting: ''By leading our country in the development of renewable energy, Indian country can enhance their own economic development and in doing so, play a central role in weaning the United States off its addiction to foreign oil that is threatening our national security, undermining our economy and destroying our environment.''

Tribes across the country are already making advances in wind, ethanol and solar energy. But, as Stevens noted, ''There is still much more that Indian country can contribute to help themselves and our nation by coupling the natural resources that are so often abundant on reservations, with the innovative human capital that is plentiful in Indian country.''

According to Daschle, ''The resources are there, and the time is now.''