|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
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 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
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
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,”
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