Guest Post: Green Jobs on Navajo Nation

Authors: Caroline Henderson

This past September, in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of Navajo Nation, nearly two hundred individuals came to listen to students grassroots leaders, public service employees, entrepreneurs, and political representatives for Navajo Nation, all presenting on the potential for Navajo Green Jobs. 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.

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There are many problems facing Navajo Nation today. Most strikingly, there are not enough job opportunities for tribe members, furthering economic hardship and unemployment. By some estimates, unemployment in Navajo Nation is a staggering 54%, ten times higher than the national average. Also, according to Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, 37.5% of homes on Navajo reservations don’t have electricity. Currently, the Navajo economy is dependent on extractive industries, namely coal power.

That day, six students from Navajo Technical College exemplified the possibilities that Green Jobs holds for 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. Training programs will help grow green jobs leaders, enabling Navajo country to partake in this new energy economy.

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.

Historically, the Navajo traditional subsistence economy works harmoniously with society and the planet. The Navajo Green Jobs initiative seek to encourage this sustainability in Dine culture, and help Navajo Nation create its own "Tribal Green Wave". Green Jobs could include solar and wind installation, weatherizing homes, green construction, and local business projects such as weavers coop, traditional farming and butchery.

This initiative is being carried out by the Navajo Green Economy Coalition, and would enable families, Chapters & individuals to establish local green businesses, thereby encouraging Navajo Economic Self-sufficiency. These jobs would offer good work and fair wages to youth, students, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, fathers, & mothers. Project funding would be overseen by a multi-stakeholder commission of Students, Community members, Navajo Non-Governmental Organizations, Elders, and Medicine people.

Many of us are familiar with the outcomes of an effort such as this: thousands of good, local jobs, a strengthened economy and an alternative energy infrastructure. We know Green Jobs are a crucial part of building the clean energy economy. For Navajo Nation, Green Jobs provide an avenue to economic and political independence, jobs that show reverence for the earth and protect community health, and life-ways that honor subsistence and traditional wisdom. It is both encouraging and essential to see such work continue.

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Caroline Henderson is an intern with 1Sky New Mexico.

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