By Georgia Davis Conover
Two tribes of Native Americans in the Southwestern United States are confronting environmentalists who want close down an energy plant on reservation lands. The Hopi Nation’s Tribal Council banned the Sierra Club and other environmental groups from coming onto their property. The following day, the Navajo Nation, which completely surrounds the Hopi in Northern Arizona, joined the discussion. “These are individuals and groups who claim to have put the welfare of fish and insects above the survival of the Navajo people when in fact their only goal is to stop the use of coal in the U.S. and the Navajo Nation,” said Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr.
The dispute, which surprises many in the environmental and Native American communities, is based around a coal-fired, power plant on the Navajo reservation. Some environmentalists want the plant closed, arguing that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to pollution over the Grand Canyon and to global warming. Members of the two tribal councils maintain that the power plants, and their accompanying coal mines, are an economic lifeline. Not all members of the native nations agree, however, with the tribal councils’ position, saying that tribal members should prioritize protecting the environment over economic gain.
In Economic Geography Robin M. Leichenko connects several variables including location to persistent poverty on Native American reservations. Leichenko argues that one possible explanation is that because tribal lands are located primarily in isolated, non-metropolitan areas, Native America groups have limited access to markets, agglomeration economies and economic infrastructures.
Read Robin Leichenko (2009). Does Place Still Matter? Accounting for Income Variation Across American Indian Tribal Lands. Economic Geography.