Tribes Leading the Way: 5 Points of Progress
As a 501(c) (3) nonprofit committed to championing hope for a brighter future for Native Americans living on remote, isolated and impoverished reservations, NRC is always encouraged by the progress we see happening for tribal communities. Progress toward economic development, infrastructure and social change often comes in small increments but adds up to big gains over time. Here are 5 points of progress we’ve seen in recent years for the tribes in our service area:
1. Sustainable Housing Alternatives: With 90,000 Native Americans homeless, tribes are looking at alternative forms of sustainable housing. While the waiting list for tribal housing is often 3+ years, straw bale homes are a good alternative. Straw bale homes are affordable, quick to build, environmentally friendly, and constructed from natural materials that are locally available in remote communities. Red Feather Development builds straw bale houses in Native American communities throughout Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, as part of the American Indian Sustainable Housing Initiative. NRC Program Partners have also shared about the introduction of straw bale homes on the Hopi Reservation. Another plus, some straw bale houses integrate solar panels to support hot water, floor heating and systems to catch rainwater – an important opportunity for reservation communities with contaminated ground water.
2. Closing the Digital Divide: On March 12, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission released the Open Internet Order to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility. An Open Internet represents unlimited possibility for rural Native communities and improves the opportunity to build tribal nations and economies. In addition, federal stimulus funding was awarded in 2011 to help bring high-speed Internet access to 5 Indian reservations in the state of Arizona, including Navajo, Hopi, San Carlos Apache, Tohono O’odham and Havasupai (in the base of the Grand Canyon). The federal stimulus also funded fiber-optic cabling and building of microwave towers in New Mexico and Utah for the Navajo Nation. Often the reservation schools on these tribal lands lack the computers and basic Internet access that many students in America now take for granted. Beginning to close the digital divide between Indian country and the rest of the world will, over time, “increase college enrollment and completion, improve the quality and efficiency of health care and strengthen the business economy on reservations, which would attract outside companies needed for a competitive, healthy market,” as noted by Carl Artman, professor and director of the Economic Development in Indian Country program at Arizona State University.
3. Alternative Energy Development: NRC offers the AIRC winter fuel service because depletion of the energy assistance budget by mid-winter is an annual challenge for some tribes. Today, we are encouraged to see tribes at the forefront of many renewable energy projects. No stranger to working in harmony with nature, alternative energy development bodes well for practical needs and future economic development of the tribes. Currently, the Oneida Reservation in Wisconsin has a solar renewable energy project to meet electricity and hot water needs. The Manzanita Reservation in California has a hybrid wind-and-solar project and Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico has an off-grid project. These are just a few of the leading edge renewable energy projects the tribes are undertaking today. On the Fort Berthold and Rosebud reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota, massive wind turbine projects are underway that will provide key insights about the viability of wind energy and the possibility of commercial-scale wind energy production.
4. Native American Business Growth: In the five-year period from 2002 to 2007, the number of Native American small businesses increased 17.7 percent. Today numbering about 300,000, Native-owned businesses continue to grow in small increments. While only 8% of the businesses actually create jobs, collectively these firms employ 184,416 people — representing sustainable gains through self-employment.
5. Food Sovereignty Initiatives: A number of tribes in our Northern Plains service area are embracing food sovereignty and food security. Gardening, for instance, is on the rise among Northern Plains tribes. Families of the Standing Rock Reservation are actively involved with gardening and a farmer’s market, facilitated by an NRC partner who coordinates the Native Gardens Project through the tribe’s Diabetes Program. On the Pine Ridge Reservation, one partner started a youth garden project that blossomed into a community-wide gardening movement, with individual family gardens, garden training, a farmer’s market, a canning station and a greenhouse. This summer, NRC will begin operating a mobile food truck that follows our fresh produce distributions across the Northern Plains reservations to conduct healthy cooking demos with fresh vegetables. These types of projects are especially important for reservations designated as food deserts by the USDA. For some families, raising and selling fresh produce has also become a new income stream.