We have a shot at being self-determining or we can be the victims. This is a time of tumultuous change, economic downturns, accelerating climate destabilization and the depletion of oil supplies, meaning loss of access to cheap petroleum. If we don’t act, we will be caught in a very difficult place as indigenous peoples.
We need to make decisions about the future of our communities and what that future will look like. Will we continue to rely on the outside industrial economy for our food, energy and other basic needs or will we look to create our own local economies as a way to determine our own destiny?
If we don’t act, we will be caught in a very difficult place as indigenous peoples.
The Native Peoples Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop is an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about our future. Tribal peoples and scientists from across the United States will gather at the workshop at Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel from Nov. 18 – 21. Sponsored by the NASA Tribal College and University Project, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and a number of tribal colleges and tribal organizations, the workshop will bring the next generation of leadership – Native students – into the effort of mitigating climate change and building adaptation strategies.
The impacts of climate change are already being felt in our communities. The tribal village of Kivalina has taken action to sue 14 oil and coal companies because it is literally falling into the ocean. Extended droughts and volatile weather are causing more havoc in our communities, and economists around the world are predicting that up to 20 percent of world gross domestic product (i.e. money) will be used to address climate change related disasters by 2020. The U.S. economy (and in particular, the urban infrastructure, if Katrina and New Orleans are an example) will find itself under more severe stress in the climate challenged times ahead.
Now is the time to act. We can start by assessing our current economies. Food and energy consume massive portions of our tribal economies – nearly half of the average tribal economy is spent outside the reservation on energy and food. This creates a huge economic leak. We can set a goal to re-localize tribal economies by developing energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable food.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to begin is through weatherization and efficiency. When you consider that tribal communities face climate change impacts first and foremost due to our remote and rural locations, weatherization and efficiency are essential. Another step is to restore traditional foods. Our indigenous crops were developed in a pre-fossil fuel world, meaning they are drought and frost resistant and resilient in the face of climate change. And, they don’t need petroleum intensive fertilizers or extensive irrigation to grow.
Nationally, there is a great deal of work taking place in our communities to re-localize food, energy and to build resilient and sustainable economies. The Navajo people of the Shonto Chapterhouse are one example of a community taking action. The Shonto chapter is the first Native community to begin developing a locally owned renewable energy utility. This utility will only be complimented by the current work of the Navajo Nation to promote green jobs through the Navajo Green Jobs Economy Commission. This is the first tribal commission created specifically for the promotion of green jobs in Indian country.
We can set a goal to re-localize tribal economies by developing energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable food.
Great Plains tribes, from Cheyenne River to Rosebud, are also taking action by developing wind power on their reservations. A set of planned 100 megawatt projects will tap into one of Indian country’s most prolific resources, the wind.
Solar heat is also taking hold in our communities. One solar heating panel can save a family up to 40 percent of winter utility costs. Lakota Solar Enterprises, based on Pine Ridge, has manufactured and installed solar heating panels on reservations across the upper Midwest.
A well-spring of local projects, from the Dream of Wild Health in Minnesota to the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative in Oklahoma, are bringing traditional foods back to the people and the land. Only 100 years ago, our communities produced almost all of our own food. Today, we produce less than 20 percent. The food we eat today travels far – an average of 1,500 miles from producer to table. As the price of oil rises, so does the price of food, and this trend will only continue. We cannot afford the rising cost.
We need to come together as indigenous peoples to plan our own future, to hear and learn from each other on how we are addressing climate change and peak oil, and how together we can build strategies for our survival. Come and join us at the Native Peoples Native Homelands Workshop.
Winona LaDuke is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of White Earth Anishinaabe. An acclaimed author and orator, LaDuke is the executive director of Honor the Earth and the founder and campaign director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project.