Going Green for the Benefit of Mother Earth

All throughout our history, Native Americans have had a special relationship with our environment. In fact, this relationship is the substance of our identity and the essence of our tradition and cultural values. Land, water, fire and plants are sanctified in our prayers and used as symbols during our dialogue with the creator.

Indian country has known that preserving the health of Mother Earth is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Our elders tell stories that our decisions today must take into consideration the effects upon future generations.

This is a very challenging time and a serious matter.

The Industrial Revolution has brought immeasurable damage to Mother Earth from the overconsumption of resources and the cycle of pollution involved. As we struggle with the results of the greenhouse effect, renewable energy and conservation have been brought to the forefront of global thought.
For Native Americans, these ecological considerations only echo what has been taught to us since time immemorialÑthe importance of protecting our Mother Earth for the benefit of later generations.

For centuries, Indian country has fought to maintain our traditions, cultures and languages, and now, more than ever, we must all pledge to be part of the fight to adapt to climate change and preserve our way of life. To this effort, the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) has formed the Climate Change Committee to look at doing our part in the Indian gaming industry to addressing climate change. Spearheaded by Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and Dr. Dan Wildcat (Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation), a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., our focus will be to promote and encourage climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in Indian country.

Working in tandem with the American Indian and Alaskan Native Climate Change Working Group, a tribal college and university-centered network was established at Haskell. Work with tribal casino operations, intensifying recycling efforts and employing sustainable building practices is an obvious first move. Maximizing the efficiency of buildings and employing energy conservation practices will not only save money, but also reduce carbon emissions.

We will also work with interested tribes, casino operators and organizations to expand our business and network partnerships, hopefully leading to a national summit on climate change in an effort to go beyond green. Finally, we hope to incorporate a new website, hosted on the main NIGA website, dedicated to sustainability and its benefits to Indian country. Our partnerships will be instrumental.

Because the cleanliness of our global environment has deteriorated significantly, America is also poised to do its part with the passage of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill from President Barack Obama. A major component of the stimulus focuses on green efforts: research on renewable energy, tax credits on green improvements and infrastructure development and upgrades. All over Indian country, tribes are working to meet deadlines with construction-ready projects that have sat on the backburner for years due to lack of funds. The stimulus bill is providing funds, and we must exert our sovereignty and ensure we get a fair opportunity to enjoy the benefits of going green along with the rest of the states and counties in this country.

NIGA has been working aggressively to empower Indian-owned businesses by establishing the American Indian Business Network (AIBN) as a networking avenue for native businesses. Through the AIBN, tribally-owned businesses are promoted on equal footing when they seek to work with Indian governments and their casinos. One major aspect of this network will be opportunities for native-owned businesses in the green economy.

As I travel throughout Indian country, I have had the opportunity to see that many of the tribal casino operations have seized the opportunity to become eco-friendly. We must continue to spread awareness that establishing eco-friendly operations is critical so that each can reduce their carbon footprint. I will continue to spread this message as I continue my travels on behalf of NIGA.

The Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel is just one example of a tribal gaming operation that bills itself as a “green” casino and is designed to make the lightest possible footprint on the landscape without sacrificing profitability. The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians is improving the environment by utilizing skylights in the casino during the day, serving drinks only in glassesÑno cans or bottlesÑand masking the exterior of the restaurant with ferns and lilies.

Native Americans have long strived to take care of Mother Earth and exercise conservation. We seek to reconnect with these values and do our part and work with our member tribes in creating sustainability efforts through our climate change committee that will initiate projects in line with the rest of the country.

My fathers good friend Iron Eyes Cody portrayed the rampant destruction long ago. In the 1970s, Iron Eyes Cody was featured in the “Keep America Beautiful” advertising campaign on national television, shedding a tear at the sight of pollution. Dressed in his traditional regalia, he stood in stark contrast to the industrialized world depicted.

While that tear proved more powerful than words, it left a deep impression on America when the ecology movement was new. It also acknowledged that respect for the environment is the foundation of who we are as native people. It is time to revisit our traditional values and take the health of our Mother Earth seriously by being part of the solution. It’s our responsibility as her children.

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