Honor the Earth comes to Durango
Indigo Girls and Winona LaDuke to make a stop at Fort Lewis

Indigo Girls Emily Saliers and Amy Ray.

Though much of the nation is focused on controversial energy issues such as drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or America’s dependence on foreign oil, on Monday local audiences will learn of activist efforts to provide alternatives to these issues and how they affect Native Americans.

Two-time Green Party vice-presidential candidate Winona LaDuke and activist/musicians the Indigo Girls will make a stop at Fort Lewis College as part of a cross-country speaking and performance tour to raise awareness about environmental matters on Native lands.

Monday’s event will include an hour-long presentation by LaDuke, Saliers and Ray and an approximately 45-minute set by the Indigo Girls.

This will be the fifth tour LaDuke and the musical duo have staged since they teamed up in 1991 when LaDuke met Emily Saliers and Amy Ray at an Earth Day benefit near Boston, Mass. Discovering their similar interests in hot-button political concerns, together they created the national Native American foundation, Honor the Earth.

Over the years, the advocacy group has focused on various Native American issues, from the high-profile Yucca Mountain nuclear storage controversy, which targets the location on the Western Shoshone Nation in Nevada as a dumping ground for nearly 98 percent of the U.S.’s radioactive waste, to the lesser-known plan to develop a water-contaminating coal strip-mine near the Pueblo of Zuni’s Salt Lake, a natural and spiritual resource. To date, Honor the Earth has donated more than $800,000 to Native American grassroots groups.

For this tour, Honor the Earth is promoting wind power as an alternative to nuclear energy. Foundation members say that since the advent of the nuclear era, the federal government and nuclear industry have subjected Native Americans to “genocide and ethnocide” with this technology. LaDuke cites the dozens of proposals to dump toxic waste in Native communities as examples.

The tour focuses on wind power also because of the current heightened awareness in this country about finding alternative energy resources. The foundation says that the ongoing war in Iraq is a key example of this need. Saliers believes that there is too much dependency on foreign oil. She wants the U.S. to move away from imperialistic tactics to secure oil and instead mine natural resources.

“There is a strong connection between energy and peace,” Saliers said last week in a telephone interview from her home in Atlanta. “There’s no doubt that oil plays a huge part in this war. To me, it seems obvious. When you send troops in to fight a war based on bad energy policy 85 it’s terrible.”

Saliers added that the current energy paradigm of the U.S. is not sustainable. She said communities must start to recognize the connection between “burning fossil fuels, bad energy policy and ultimate injustice and violence.”

Wind is a form of energy that is converted into mechanical power or electricity; it is a good renewable energy source because it is clean and cheap, Saliers said. More importantly, she said, Native American communities are willing to undertake these projects because of the benefits they may reap, including providing themselves with much-needed power, while also creating revenue and jobs for self-sufficiency.

Two years ago, the Department of Energy reported that 14.2 percent of all homes on reservations do not have access to electricity, compared with only 1.4 percent of all U.S. households. Tribal members also pay significantly higher prices for electricity. This prompted the DOE to introduce the Tribal Energy Program, which provides funding to tribes to develop clean, affordable and reliable energy alternatives. Last year, the department awarded $3 million in grants to 14 Native American tribes to develop renewable energy.

The tour will highlight wind turbine projects on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. This year, the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota plans to go online with the first commercially viable, reservation-based wind turbine. This is an especially important example because of its location, Saliers said.

“They say the Great Plains is the Saudi Arabia of wind power,” she said. Energy scientists estimate that this area has enough potential power to provide up to one-third of the need for U.S. electrical consumption. The DOE has conducted wind studies showing that North Dakota alone has enough energy from high winds to supply 36 percent of the electricity used by the lower 48 states.

Honor the Earth reports that 23 Native nations in the Great Plains have the wind potential to develop about 300 gigawatts of power. Today, the nation’s total electrical capacity amounts to 600 gigawatts of power.

The benefits to Native communities and the global community are enormous, Saliers said. Such projects have the potential to reduce haze and offset emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. But what’s lacking is information, government support and public discourse. To spur change, she said, there have to be personal connections.

“People are going to see that communities are losing their ways of life,” she said. “If we can make them see that human connection, it’ll happen. Empathy is a huge tool for change.”

As musicians, Saliers said the Indigo Girls have a particular obligation to enhance the education process. That’s why the duo is involved with Honor the Earth and its various advocacy issues. She said their access to the entertainment business provides resources for them to enlighten listeners and activists with their information and political platform.

“Our experience and position in the [industry] have empowered our optimism. A lot of that passion comes out in the lyrics of the songs. We spend as much time on politics as we do music,” Saliers said.

Proceeds from the tour will be put toward Honor the Earth’s Energy Justice Initiative. The capital and technical support is earmarked for wind projects on the Great Plains reservations. It will also enable the group to continue the fight against current energy projects that it deems “culturally and ecologically destructive.”






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