Green Jobs for Navajo Nation

It was a cloudy Friday morning in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of Navajo Nation. Nearly two hundred individuals came to listen to dozens of organizations presenting on the potential for Navajo Green Jobs. I attended this conference as someone who’d spent weeks handing out “Green Jobs” Power Vote stickers and who was fairly familiar with Van Jones speeches. I realized that day that the idea of Green Jobs has taken flight beyond the theoretical. It is becoming an opportunity for real change, to deliver power to the people of Navajo Nation.

My friend and colleague, Alana Miller, and I were traveling to Navajo Nation as part of our internship for 1Sky New Mexico and New Energy Economy. We spent our first night in Gallup, a bizarre intersection between Navajo tribe-land and American Sprawl. On one side of historic Rt. 66, the town’s main artery, lay the original Old West train tracks and the striking Red Rock mesas. On the opposite side was building after building of standard American franchises: Sonic, WalMart, McDonald’s, Texaco. Beyond the strip malls, we could see neighborhoods of government-built houses. That weekend, we listened to the stories of several members of the Navajo tribe: stories about oppression, hardship, resilience, and courage.

We rode to Window Rock with Anna Rondon and Norman Brown, of 1Sky New Mexico,  long-time activists instrumental in banning uranium mining on Navajo Nation. They told us about the pivotal subjugations of their people: in 1862 the prison-camps of Fort Sumner, in the 1934, the massacre of ½ million Navajo livestock, and  in the early 1900s, the discovery of coal and uranium on Navajo land. Despite this historic oppression, Anna and Norman believe that today the grassroots influences the government more than ever: especially now, with the prospect of Green Jobs.

There are many problems facing Navajo Nation today. Most strikingly, there are not enough job opportunities for tribe members, furthering economic hardship and unemployment. According to the advocacy organization Navajo Green Economy Coalition, unemployment in Navajo Nation is a staggering 54%, ten times higher than the national average. Also, 37.5% of homes on Navajo reservations don’t have electricity while Navajo homes represent 75% of tribal homes in the U.S. without access to electricity. Currently, the Navajo economy is dependent on extractive industries, namely coal power. The EPA recently approved the creation of Desert Rock, a new Coal-Fired Power Plant on Navajo territory, though this energy is fated to be sold off to Phoenix and Las Vegas, instead of going to power Navajo homes. On the other hand, Navajo Nation will retain the negative by-products, such as asthma and other health effects.

On Saturday, six students from Navajo Technical College exemplified the possibilities of creating new competitive job opportunities, rural access to electricity, and a revitalized Navajo Nation. These students and instructor, Ray Griego, presented their project, entitled, “Renewable Energy: Operation Niyol (Wind)”. They took turns sharing knowledge and demonstrating their hand-crafted wind turbine. These students are using many high level skills: from science, to technology, to engineering.  And the training they receive at this institution can be used to benefit the community. Training programs will help grow green jobs leaders, enabling Navajo country to partake in this new energy economy.

These students shared the stage with the grassroots (such as Navajo Green Economy Coalition), public (representative from Navajo Tribal Utility Authority), entrepreneurial (solar energy company, Sacred Power Corporation), and political (vice-president of Navajo Nation Council, Ben Shelley chief of staff for Speaker of Council Lawrence T. Morgan, and the representative for long-time Green Jobs advocate Congressman Tom Udall) representatives for Navajo Nation. One initiative on the Green Jobs horizon looks especially promising: the Navajo Green Jobs project, which seeks $10 million to be allocated by the Navajo Nation Council, for the creation of green jobs projects to be implemented by tribal groups and communities throughout the Nation.

Many of us are familiar with the outcomes of an effort such as this: thousands of good, local jobs, an infrastructure for alternative energy, and a strengthened economy. We know Green Jobs are a crucial part of building the clean energy economy. But it is evident that Green Jobs can mean so much more to communities in need of pathways to prosperity and empowerment. For people who’ve for centuries been oppressed, whose land has been exploited, and whose cultures and values dominated by those of Western society, Green Jobs provide an avenue to economic and political independence, jobs that show reverence for the earth, and life-ways that honor subsistence and traditional wisdom. It is both encouraging and essential to see such work continue.

6 Responses to “Green Jobs for Navajo Nation”

  1. 1 Aaron Oct 15th, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Awesome post Carolin,
    Not very often do we hear news from the Southwest and its awesome to hear about the great work and progress you all are achieving there!
    Much love and luck!

  2. 2 Dine' Resident Oct 15th, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    What do “Green Jobs” mean? Not that I am not intrigued but sustainability doesn’t need to be taught to native people by outsiders. Many good jobs are coming from the power plants, which are needed to keep the pools filled, Mac books humming, and lattes coming for the city folk. Your post is misleading, 54% unemployment is actually much less when jobs whose income is not reported to the feds is added such as for artists, laborers, enterprising food-sellers, farmers, ranchers, mechanics, and such. Many of the people without power or water are not served because of federal involvement in the affairs of the Dine’ and Hopi with respect to jurisdictional issues and state intrusion on water rights that must be litigated first.
    What exactly can “Green Jobs” do for an area where 99% of the power created leaves to serve 25 million Americans from LA to Phx? Where will the power go? Do these jobs have union basis, do they have need of limiting Dine’ (Navajo) sovereignty?
    These questions are not misleading but by asking a couple of poorer members of the Navajo Nation about the state of the nation you lose focus on the fact that like any other nation there are poor and rich people across our nation; there are poor and not so poor communities. Trying to pull a fact to try and justify non-defined “Green Jobs” make me wonder where we are being led. As someone who had worked for an international leading oil company for many years I watched that company use such language to justify buying solar and wind resource equipment, lauding it as “green”, to stifle the advent of those technologies and use the terms to bring enviromentalists on staff and trick the public.
    Show me how the green will help and stay in Navajo Nation first before trying to lead me by the nose.

  3. 3 Cristala Oct 17th, 2008 at 11:29 am

    To Dine Resident,

    We understand your sentiment. Please don’t be discouraged. We are a Native operated non profit that was formed to provide basic education to our community on what Green jobs actually ARE…there is still so much confusion and opportunities vary from region to region. We felt that the non-native groups that are entering Indian country to have a historical misunderstanding about who we are and that their programs are more designed for the general American public. What might work in Detroit will not translate well in Shiprock.

    We acknowledge that there is a lot of work to do, and it will take a great effort requiring many people coming together, we have tried to reach out to the other Native organizers so that we can support each other and present these issues from an Indigenous perspective.

    Although we have an alliance with 1Sky, we were not invited to participate in this event, which is unfortunate. While we support 1Sky and Green for All’s efforts they do not have Native employees or Board members advising them on Indian country. As involved members of our community we have a different perspective and feel that Indian people are capable of designing an effort of our own. We also see a need to educate the Eco-Elite, Green energy industry and green job movement about Indian country, so they have a better understanding when visiting our communities.

    There WILL be Green jobs for Native people either urban or Rez…we are in the beginning phases of growth right now and education is key at this point.

    If you want to access basic information on the variety of Green job skill sets, locate training and OJT employment, or just see the green growth happening across Indian country, feel free to visit our site at

    Please check out our Board and advisory committee, as we are all Native except one person.

    Cristala Allen (Caddo)
    Executive Director
    Native Workplace

  4. 4 ECousins Oct 17th, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    I am a non-tribal member living on the Navajo Nation. I also work for the Natural Resources Defense Council, although not on energy projects in this area; what follows is personal opinion.

    Dine’ Resident, you are right to ask probing questions and be wary of bold promises. Here is one straightforward answer. Green jobs include working at solar power plants and wind turbine manufacturers. But they also employ welders, sheet metal workers, machinists, and truck drivers to do the work of laying an energy infrastructure that releases less pollution.

    On the Navajo Nation, that could mean building and operating a wind farm, as is being discussed for the Cameron Chapter. Or it could mean training builders to retrofit tribal offices and clinics with energy efficient windows and heating systems.

    I live in Kayenta near Black Mesa, where many people have jobs at the Peabody Coal Mine. I know money comes from the mine and nearby coal-fired power plants into reservation communities, but so does the pollution, increased asthma rates, and financial risk inherent in selling coal in a market that will very soon start taxing global warming emissions.

    With a wind farm–or other green energy projects–you get the jobs and the money, but you don’t get the pollution.

  5. 5 Caroline Henderson Oct 28th, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    To Dine Resident, Cristala, and ECousins-
    Thank you for your questions and concerns. I’m glad to expand on this initiative in more detail, though admittedly I’m not intending to say this as the spokesperson.

    Historically, the Navajo traditional subsistence economy works harmoniously with society and the planet. The Navajo Green Jobs initiative seek to reintroduce this sustainability into Dine culture, and help Navajo Nation create its own “Tribal Green Wave”.
    This initiative is being carried out by the Navajo Green Economy Coalition, a group of concerned Navajo citizens & non-profit organizations, many of which have indigenous staff members. The goal is to establish a “Navajo Green Economy Fund” that would give opportunities to families, Chapters & individuals to establish local green businesses, thereby encouraging Navajo Economic Self-sufficiency, and a transition to a sustainable economy. These jobs would offer good work and fair wages to youth, students, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, fathers, & mothers. Green Jobs also encourage workers to stay in and serve their communities.
    Allocation of funding would be overseen by a multi-stakeholder commission of Students, Community members, Navajo Non-Governmental Organizations, Elders, and Medicine people.
    Green Jobs could include solar and wind installation, weatherizing homes, green construction, and local business projects such as weavers coop, traditional farming and butchery.
    Navajo Nation can shift to an independent sustainable economy, protect public health, protect and ensure the health of Mother Earth. We believe the combined efforts of Green Leaders can help bring about a bright, authentic and prosperous future.

    I hope this offers a fuller picture, but you may also want to visit:
    Thanks again,

  6. 6 Bernice Silversmith Nov 20th, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    hey dat is lyk really kOol! :))

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