Student Spotlight: Working on Energy Sustainability, and Empowering Tribes

For Brittany Anstead, a career in sustainability began with a series of pointed questions, including how individuals affect the environment.

For Brittany Anstead, a career in sustainability began with a series of pointed questions.

Long before she began plotting out her career path, Anstead, a member of North Carolina’s Haliwa Saponi Tribe, wanted to know how the actions of individuals affected the environment.

“I’ve always been conscious about where trash goes or where car exhaust goes,” she said. “Even as a kid, I wondered if we just put it in a black box and it disappeared.”

Now a 23-year-old graduate student in natural resources and the environment at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Anstead is working with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on a project that promises to improve the tribe’s energy sustainability. Anstead designed the project, which will serve as the capstone in her master’s program, after learning none of the existing proposals related to tribal energy.

“I was really interested in the renewable energy potential on tribal land,” she said. “I knew that was what I wanted to do, and then take that to all Native communities across Turtle Island.”

Anstead’s project was selected and a team of six other students joined her in the ambitious task of analyzing the tribe’s existing policies and determining how they can be improved—with the ultimate goal of getting 25 percent of its total energy from renewable sources by the year 2020. That means assessing current energy usage and examining everything from light bulbs to windows to determine how efficiency can be improved. The final piece of the project is to disseminate the information to the people.

Brittany Anstead

Brittany Anstead stands with a group of student researchers who are working on a sustainability project with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

The analysis also may open the door for the tribe—and individuals—to tap into new sources of energy like wind or solar, Anstead said. She and her team started the project in February and plan to finish by April 2015—in time to graduate.

The project helps the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians meet its specific energy goals, said Christina Coger, the tribe’s environmental services coordinator. It builds from a resolution passed by the Tribal Council in 2005 that calls for better energy sustainability.

“They are coming up with ways to help us meet this goal,” Coger said of the students. “What I think is most beneficial about this project is that it’s providing a service we currently don’t have staff capacity or time to complete.”

The project also is providing direct information that will make an immediate and lasting difference in the way the tribe uses energy, Coger said.

“This will help us to take the broad issue of energy sustainability and start turning it into understandable language,” she said. “It will make it more real for everyday life.”

Brittany Anstead

Brittany Anstead joined thousands of other Natives at the People’s Climate March in New York City in September.

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, which has a population of 4,500 people, lives on 336 square miles of reservation land on the shores of Lake Michigan. That land includes 110 miles of shoreline—and lots of potential for renewable energy, Coger said.

“A large component of what they’re doing is evaluation of options,” she said. “Is solar viable? Is wind viable? They will look at not just the technology, but the cost effectiveness, regulatory process and environmental impacts.”

Anstead already has a resume bulging with environmental experience: she has a bachelor’s degree in environmental technology and management from North Carolina State University, and she has participated in a variety of summits, fellowships and work with nonprofit environmental groups. Most recently, she was selected to serve on the Environmental Justice Committee for the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs.

Brittany Anstead

Brittany Anstead, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, earned a bachelor of science degree in environmental technology and management from North Carolina State University in 2013.

After graduating, Anstead plans to keep working in sustainability and empowering tribal communities.

“I grew up in a tribal community where I gained indigenous knowledge—not language or dancing—but also a different way of thinking,” she said. “As indigenous people, we get labeled as impoverished or marginalized, but we’re actually talented and intelligent, and we have the means to use indigenous knowledge and sovereignty to empower ourselves.”