Published October 5, 2017
Author’s Note: September 13th marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This landmark piece of international law, which took 30 years to reach the General Assembly, makes powerful claims around indigenous peoples’ rights to their culture, territories and resources, treaties, and self-determination.
While the Declaration has no legally binding effect, proponents hoped that it would propel political action in jurisdictions where indigenous people have had little or no representation. As designers and activists serving Native communities around the United States, we at Sustainable Native Communities Collaboratives are acutely aware of the lack of impact this legislation has had.
Yet we have also seen enormous progress made by numerous indigenous grassroots efforts over the last decade. These are some of the stories worth celebrating. Native News Online is publishing a series of stories this week that highlight the progress being made in several tribal communities:
Moving Towards Energy Sovereignty on Tribal Lands
SPOKANE INDIAN RESERVATION – Energy sovereignty and tribal placemaking go hand-in-hand, which is why the Spokane Indian Housing Authority (SIHA) in Eastern Washington is moving forward with a $2 million solar project to power many of the Tribe’s community facilities. In partnership with tribal-led GRID Alternatives and Sovereign Power, SIHA’s Children of the Sun Solar Initiative will install approximately 637 kW of solar PV, serving 14 community buildings making up an estimated 24% of the community’s total energy load. Funding comes in part from a Department of Energy Solar Grant, which has pledged $7.8 million in match funds to Native communities over the next
One of the United States’ oldest tribal housing authorities, SIHA began in 1971 with a Housing and Urban Development-funded mutual help program aimed at improving the Tribe’s access to quality housing. Now a team of 33 people, led by Executive Director Tim Horan and Development Director Clyde Abrahamson, SIHA has grown its programs to address housing insecurity with a much broader approach. When the Reservation lost over 70,000 acres from forest fires in 2015 and 2016, as well as power and water for several days, Tim and Clyde realized just how dependent the Tribe was on external energy. Their weatherization program and home improvement loans were helping people make their homes more resilient and energy efficient. But with impending climate pressures and growing resolve to remove hydroelectric mega-dams along the Reservation’s waterways, the desire for a community-wide energy resilience strategy was born.
Tim and Clyde both emphasize the importance of utilizing diverse funding strategies in an effort to be resilient. At a time of great political flux, relying exclusively on government grants isn’t just bad for business, it’s bad for community growth. One way SIHA is addressing this is through its job training program and for-profit construction company. With this model, tribal members are trained in weatherization, photovoltaics and construction. After the effects of 200 years of logging and mining, the reduction of salmon fisheries through damming, and other forms of outside exploitation, the Spokane Tribe is turning their gaze upwards. It seems fitting, after-all, as the word Spu’-ka-nee’ means ‘the children of the sun.’