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One Dish One Spoon

Navajo Generating Station

In 1701, miwenzha, a long time ago, our people, the Anishinaabe, made an agreement with the Haudenosaunee nation—or the Six Nations Confederacy. It is referred to as the Great Peace of Montreal or the One Dish, One Spoon Treaty. Canonized as an Indigenous law, it is an agreement for sharing hunting territory among two or more nations:

Those ancestors recognized all people eat out of the single dish, that is, all hunting in the shared territory. One spoon signifies that all peoples sharing the territory are expected to limit the game they take to leave enough for others, and for the continued abundance and viability of the hunting grounds into the future. Profound.

This week, I saw a photo of the One Dish, One Spoon Wampum belt. The wampum and the treaty remain both simple and elegant. Both offer a good teaching: We all live here, drink the same water, breathe the same air, and eat from the same bowl. We are relatives.

As the stakes get higher for the fossil fuel industry, the industry lashes out, polarizing communities into pro pipeline and no pipeline. We still eat from one bowl and drink the same water.

Dangerous weather, or Mother Earth’s response to our fossil fuels addiction, took a toll this past week. A cyclone blizzard filled with dust picked up in Texas—possibly top soil from glyphosate or fracked oil fields—hit northern Minnesota. The snow where it struck was left colored yellow and orange. We are related.

Elsewhere, a fifty-year-old fossil fuel legacy is coming to its end. The Navajo Generating Station (NGS) coal plant drained Navajo water and resources and filled tribal government coffers with fossil fuel dollars for decades. Both the Navajo and Hopi Tribe benefitted in terms of tribal revenues from the Kayenta Mine, which fed the 2,250-megawattpower plant via rail line. Federally forced decisions led to a drain on tribal wealth, then came the mineral leases, the destruction of Navajo crops, orchards and livestock. Created dependency: about 85 % of the Navajo General Fund comes from fossil fuels. That’s a tough act to follow.

Change is inevitable, it just depends who controls the change. This year, Navajo Nation showed courage and wisdom—a precious combination. Peabody Energy, which runs the Kayenta Mine, filed for bankruptcy in 2016, saddled with aging coal strip mines and toxic wastes. The company could not sell off the coal mines.

In late February, Peabody laid off 40 employees and will send its last shipment of coal to the NGS plant by the end of summer. Meanwhile, both Peabody and the Salt River Project, the owner of the ancient NGS plant, hoped to push off their known and unknown liabilities to the Navajo Nation. NGS had moved Navajo water through a series of canals to cities like Phoenix and beyond for years and burned coal which accelerated the climate crisis.

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In a time of catastrophic climate change and water scarcity, the Navajo Nation did not buy the ancient coal-fired generator or another coal strip mine. Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon said clean energy, tourism and carbon credits can all help with the loss of jobs.

Let the Sun Shine

They say that hindsight is 20/20. Fifty years of coal, oil and uranium have brought a good deal of revenue to the Navajo Nation but have also destroyed large areas of land that can never be reclaimed. They’ve brought money and heartache. The Navajo nation, while generating power for New Mexico, Arizona and beyond, did not even have power in their own communities. Some 75% of the homes in the US which are unelectrified are at Navajo. That changes now.

In 2017, the Kayenta Solar Facility came on line with 27 megawatts of power for Navajo people. This wholly-owned Navajo project is the first-of–its-kind utility-scale solar project within the Navajo Nation.

Kayenta Mine

Kayenta Mine

Navajo Tribal Utility Authority General Manager Walter Haase said this project “demonstrates the Navajo Nation is ready for large scale renewable energy production,” calling it a “gigantic first step toward enhancing the green economy.” Kayenta Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown said. his community “is proud of being the first Navajo community to have a large scale solar energy farm on the Navajo Nation.”

This is an enlightened path forward, that’s for sure. The Kayenta Solar project consists of 119,301 photovoltaic panels on single axis trackers which follow the daily path of the Sun. The plant’s output is enough energy to service approximately 13,000 homes over the next 25 years, during which it will generate up to 1,900 GWh of energy. Kayenta Solar was built in six months by Navajo people, who count among them more electrical engineers than any other tribe. Now, they have brought power to their own communities.

With the eminent closing of coal generation on Navajo nation, the largest tribe in the country is poised to move renewable energy to market on the same power lines which carried coal generation for fifty years. This is community-driven progress to embrace energy that is good for local economies while cutting pollution that endangers the whole planet that we all share —and it is an example for all of us to follow.

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One Dish, One Spoon. The three hundred-year-old agreement holds true.

Winona LaDuke