So I had a column out day about an issue on our campus where the last remaining Native American coures are being but because of lack of funding. I also talk about energy issues. Enjoy!
Native Americans: Power for the persecuted
A Facebook message asked me to sign a petition demanding that officials re-instate two Native American studies classes the university won’t teach next semester. And I started thinking, is there a more neglected and forgotten minority in the United States today than Native Americans? Counting American Indians and Alaska natives, the 2007 U.S. Census puts the population at about 0.8 percent of the United States, which is still millions of people. And according to the 2000 U.S. Census, about half a million reside on reservations.
The economic opportunities on these reservations are scarce, and there is tremendous hardship. Unemployment rates are more than 50 percent, along with the highest rate of poverty in the nation. The result is, for practically every measurable social statistic, the Native American population ranks at the bottom.
Anyone who reads my columns knows I tie everything and anything into energy and environmental issues. No need to hesitate here. Native American reservations contain large quantities of natural resources, including energy. There is little to no access or control over as to how they are used – 65 percent of North America’s uranium lies on these reservations, as is 80 percent of all the uranium mining and 100 percent of all the uranium processing in the country.
The result has been high rates of cancer, respiratory ailments, miscarriages and birth defects. The water and soil are loaded with lead, radium, thorium and other toxins. People who work in the mines rarely receive clothing, protection, medical evaluation or compensation. There is almost no wealth to show for this exploitation, and our tax dollars subsidize it daily through our funding of uneconomical nuclear power.
There is an ironic twist, though. Throughout history, as Native Americans were thrown off their land and sectioned off in reservations, we thought we were giving them land no one really wanted – land in the Midwest, where the sun was brightest and the wind strongest. We’re now in a time where we desperately need to increase renewable energy production to help address environmental, national security and economic problems, and the solar energy potential on tribal lands is 4.5 times the annual U.S. electric generation. The reservations on the Great Plains have a windpower potential that tops 300 gigawatts, half our annual electric generation. Everyone wins with a clean energy economy, but I can’t think of a group in this country who would benefit more than Native Americans.
This would explain why I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot more of groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network. A good climate bill, a green energy bill and a new electric grid only benefit indigenous people if they are involved in the legislative process. We can’t abuse their renewable resources like we’ve abused their traditional resources. They need to be a partner, not a tool. The less we understand about their culture and history, the harder this will be.
We’re headed in the right direction on energy. I have a hunch. In a few decades, it will be as impossible for the university to abolish Native American courses as African American or women’s studies – lack of funding be damned. For now, they can get away with it. Or can they?
Consider this my petition signature.
Matt Dernoga is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org