Navajo Nation politics raising issues of clean energy

The New York Times reports that Lynda Lovejoy, a candidate for president of the Navajo Nation and many other Navajos are seeking to reverse years of environmental degradation and return to traditional values by calling for a future built on solar farms, ecotourism, and microbusinesses instead of coal mining.

“At some point we have to wean ourselves,” Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official. Mr. Tulley is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election and he also represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind.

“We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development,” said Mr. Tulley, the first environmentalist to run on a Navajo presidential ticket.

With nearly 300,000 citizens, the Navajo Nation is the country’s largest tribe and it has the biggest reservation. Coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the reservation and on lands shared with the Hopi Tribe provide about 1,500 jobs and more than a third of the tribe’s annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes.

At the grass-roots level, the internal movement advocating a retreat from coal is both a reaction to the environmental damage and the health consequences of mining — water loss and contamination, smog and soot pollution — and a reconsideration of centuries-old tenets.

In Navajo culture, some spiritual guides say, digging up the earth to retrieve resources like coal and uranium (which the reservation also produced until health issues led to a ban in 2005) is tantamount to cutting skin and represents a betrayal of a duty to protect the land.

“As medicine people, we don’t extract resources,” said Anthony Lee Sr., president of the Diné Hataalii Association, a group of about 100 healers known as medicine men and women.

The tribal government did approve in 2010 a wind farm to be built west of Flagstaff, Ariz., to power up to 20,000 homes and in 2009, the tribe’s legislature created a Navajo Green Economy Commission to promote environmentally friendly jobs and businesses.

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