Tribal leaders learn from each other at energy conference

Colleen Keane, Navajo Times

When Roger Fragua took the stage during the Developing Tribal Energy Resources and Economies conference, he sent a message loud and clear.

“This is not the Department of Energy’s conference, this is your conference,” Fragua (Jemez Pueblo) told about 300 tribal and non-tribal energy leaders and companies from across the U.S. and Canada during the conference held June 10-12 at Sandia Pueblo casino in Albuquerque.

Facilitating the Tuesday morning panel, Fragua explained that the purpose of the conference was to help tribes increase their self-sufficiency efforts, explore energy policies, and resource development (which he said are needed more than ever as tribal populations are increasing with some populations doubling every 25 years).

“We deserve affordable utilities that everyone else has. Some of us are still stranded using expensive propane and wood; not all of us (in this country) have affordable energy resources,” he said.

In a landscape of dwindling federal funding and increased encroachment on sovereignty, the panel of eight tribal energy leaders, including Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, strategized how to increase economies through natural resource and alternative energy development.

To develop resources, Fragua encouraged an expansion of tribal coalitions.

“Let’s get the family back together on where we are headed, not only on policy, but on coalition building that would include Hawaii and Canada. We need to pray together and stay together,” he said.

“We need to develop our own resources. We need to purchase from one another,” added panelist Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations.

The conference also provided an opportunity for tribal energy leaders to learn from one another. Energy development in Hall’s community pointed out that new technology, using horizontal and lateral drilling, is helping to locate gas and oil deposits. The Bakken shale formation is partially located on tribal lands.

“We are currently in a boom. We are the number one gas producing tribe in the country,” he reported.

Derrick Watchman, chairman of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, also a panelist, said that learning best practices from other tribes is an important step towards self-sufficiency.