Tribal Leaders Address Climate Impacts, Clean Energy Bill


PHOTO: (from left) Mike Williams, chairman of Alaska Inter-Tribal Council; Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico; Jerry Pardilla, executive director of the National Tribal Environmental Council; and John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund.

Sitting in the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel, I was impressed to see dozens of powerful leaders from American Indian tribes all across the U.S. gathered together discussing the serious concerns they have about how climate change will impact tribal lands, as well as the great potential they see for how tribes can benefit from a clean energy economy that reduces carbon pollution.

NWF partnered with three major tribal organizations: the National Congress of American Indians, the National Tribal Environmental Council and the Native American Rights Fund to host a lunch meeting to discuss congressional action on climate change.

The tribal leaders are in town for the White House Tribal Nations Conference to discuss a host of issues important to Indian Country, but they took time out to convene on Wednesday to share perspectives on climate change’s impacts to tribes, climate legislation, tribal efforts to adapt to climate change impacts and how tribes are prepared to provide clean energy solutions.

Jacqueline Johnson-Pata, executive director of National Congress of American Indians said that renewable energy is one of the most significant economic development opportunities available to tribes during these difficult economic times, particularly tribes in remote areas, many of which have never experienced meaningful economic opportunities.

John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, pointed out that Indigenous Peoples have contributed very little to the global carbon footprint, yet they are suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change. And  Jerry Pardilla, executive director, National Tribal Environmental Council, said that it is incumbent upon the Obama Administration and Congress to include Indian tribes and their leaders in the development of policies and strategies to reverse these impacts.

The lunch meeting really highlighted how important the tribes are in finding solutions to climate change that also bring much-needed jobs and economic security to communities most vulnerable to its impacts.

For example, the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy estimates that the total tribal wind generation potential is about 14% of the total U.S. electric generation – based data from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.