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The Tribal Energy Program: Wind Power and Human Development within Native American Communities

By Bob Congleton


In the mid-1900s the U.S. Government facilitated unfettered energy-company access to Native American lands for the extraction of natural resources such as uranium and coal. Outcomes were generally characterized by minimal financial tribal benefit, while often creating high levels of environmental degradation and exposure to toxic health risks. Since 1975, the federal government’s official relationship with Native Nations shifted to one of “self-determination,” which allowed tribes to assert greater sovereignty. Consistent with this policy, the DOE’s Tribal Energy Program, in 2002, began providing grants to tribes pursuant of sustainable-energy projects with the goal of advancing human capacity in Native American communities. The theory of developmental justice known as the Capabilities Approach provides an ethical framework for assessing meaningful opportunities created by a federal wind power program to foster human and economic development within impoverished populations. Using the Capabilities perspective, this study views the pluralistic goals of Tribal Energy Program as well-conceived to correct past energy-sector injustices within reservations by empowering tribes to develop wind projects of their own conception; however, multiple barriers to implementation are preventing the successful development of these installations. Based on these findings, addressing extant barriers to development at the federal level is recommended through the channeling of available resources toward the development of small-scale projects.

Year: 2013
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