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Scrapbook: Navajo Nation Passes Green Jobs Bill

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September 15, 2009

Navajo Nation Passes Green Jobs Bill

The Navajo Green Economy Coalition. Photo by Wahleah Johns.

This post is written by Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club's Tribal Partnerships Program in Arizona

From Window Rock, Arizona: On the great Navajo Nation, “green” is a concept that is not new. Traditional Navajos have always conserved resources and had a light footprint on the land. Navajo grassroots leaders of the Navajo Green Economy Coalition, of which the Sierra Club is a proud member, have built upon this Navajo philosophy and passed historic legislation this summer to help Navajo communities move us towards a clean energy future.

For the past year, we have been working with the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, Lawrence T. Morgan, to create the Navajo Green Economy Commission and Green Economy Fund that will help Navajo communities create and fund green jobs to keep young people in their communities working on wind and solar projects as well as other green projects. This is the first Green Jobs legislation to pass across Indian Country and it is uniquely Navajo.

I was there when the Navajo Nation Council voted to approve the formation of the Navajo Green Economy Commission and Green Economy Fund. I overheard several council delegates tell members of the Coalition that they were proud of them and that, “this shows that our government can work for you.” The passage of this legislation represents a new page in Navajo history away from an economy based on fossil fuel extraction dominated by coal giants like Peabody and BHP. Now the real work begins to bring hundreds of Green Jobs to Navajo communities in a way that respects local communities and the unique Navajo culture that many say have always been what we now call “Green.”

Young Navajo leaders from the Black Mesa Water Coalition led the charge to draft this solid set of bills. The Coalition secured passage of the Navajo Green Economy Act in the Navajo Nation Council by a vote of 62 to 1 and Navajo President Joe Shirley signed it a few days later.

It was a real honor to be part of the campaign. Coalition folks made flags, silk screened green t-shirts with “green jobs,” got full page ads in the Navajo Times, marched in parades with bike-powered green jobs floats, secured support resolutions from over 30 Navajo Chapters and overall, ran a seamless campaign.

As one of the few “belaagaanas” (white men) wearing green t-shirts this historic day on the Navajo Nation, I realized that I was honored to witness a beautiful expression of Navajo Tribal Sovereignty and grassroots democracy as part of the Coalition’s successful campaign. The Navajo Nation has taken a strong step towards a transition building a greener economy with passage of the Navajo Green Economy Act of the Navajo Nation.

“We want green jobs for Navajo youth. Right now, unemployment on the reservation is at 44%. There’s nothing for young people,” said Nikki Alex, one of the key organizers with the Black Mesa Water Coalition. “The (green jobs) legislation will help bring back jobs and keep monies in the reservation. Currently, for every dollar made on the reservation, 70-cents get spent outside. That’s a 70% leakage rate. There’s no economic development in the reservation.”

I have spent several years now working, praying, eating and celebrating with Navajo partners as we have campaigned with Navajo communities to help transition off the coal-dependent economy offered by Peabody towards an economy that is more respected by Navajo grandmothers and medicine men who carry on the Navajo traditions. I think this success shows how organizations like the Sierra Club can work in partnership for work in tribal communities on their terms and in their frame. I have never felt more proud of my adopted relatives and coalition partners that this day. While I am not Navajo and can’t vote, I am proud to represent the Sierra Club as a supporter of the Navajo Green Economy Coalition.  
The Navajo Green Jobs Coalition consists of several organizations throughout the Navajo Nation including but not limited to the following: the Speaker of the 21st Navajo Nation Council, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Sierra Club, New Energy Economy/1Sky NM, Grand Canyon Trust, New Mexico Youth Organized and Dine C.A.R.E.

You can learn more about the legislation by visiting or by reading this great editorial by Wahleah Johns, one of the key leaders of the Navajo Green Economy Coalition.


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