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Navajo Nation approves first tribal 'green jobs' legislation

Navajo Nation Approves First Tribal 'Green Jobs' Legislation(By Laura Shin via Solve Climate)While economists bemoan the rising U.S. unemployment rate, nearing 10

percent, there's a part of the country that has long struggled with

unemployment many times higher – the Navajo Nation.The unemployment rate across the sprawling region is 44 percent right now.

But on Tuesday, its leaders approved groundbreaking legislation that they

hope will bring change for their people.The Navajo Nation became the first Native American tribe to pass green jobs

legislation intended to grow thousands of jobs in ways that follow the

Navajo traditions of respecting the Earth. The Navajo Nation Council voted

to establish a Navajo Green Economy Commission that will draw on federal,

state and foundation funding to pay for green initiatives ranging from

farmers’ markets to small-scale energy projects.“This is huge,” says Wahleah Johns, Field Organizer for Black Mesa Water

Coalition, part of the Navajo Green Economy Coalition, which lobbied for

the legislation.“One of the largest indigenous nations in the U.S. is paving a pathway for

green jobs development in Indian country. It could be a model for most

Indian nations throughout the world.”The Navajo Green Economy Coalition hopes the initiative will alleviate the

area's high unemployment rate. Many employed members of the Navajo Nation,

which spans 26,000 miles – about the size of West Virginia – have to travel

far to jobs off the reservation. Some 77 cents of every dollar earned on

the reservation ends up being spent off of it.“I think this legislation is really important, because we have a lot of

really smart, talented people who go to college and return and can’t find a

job. I was one of them,” says Nikke Alex, a member of the coalition and a

recent University of Arizona graduate.Many of the jobs that are on the reservation are with schools, hospitals

and tribal government, or in industries like coal mining, oil drilling and,

until a 2005 tribal ban, uranium mining.The legislation defines "green businesses" as businesses and industries

that contribute to the economy with little or no generation of greenhouse

gases and/or can counteract the negative effects of greenhouse gases.“With this green jobs program, we hope we will support existing sustainable

practices, like local organic farming that already exists but just needs a

good marketing mechanism, and ranching organic meats like sheep and cattle

that a lot of folk raise on Navajo reservation that could be made into

gourmet foods,” Johns says.The commission also expects to fund weavers’ co-operatives and wool mills,

since shepherding and weaving wool are part of traditional Navajo culture.

Energy will be a focus in the form of weatherization, energy efficiency and

small-scale solar and wind projects within homes and communities.“Our government has been relying on dirty energy and it’s time that our

tribal government turns to more energy efficient and sustainable jobs,”

Alex says.Johns touted the benefits of the reservation’s sunny location – surrounded

by Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, it has more than 300 days of sunlight

annually – and its proximity to California, a leader in renewable energy

standards that could become buyer if the Navajo Nation produces and sells

solar or wind energy.Rural electrification and rainwater harvesting are also becoming priorities

for the Navajo Nation; 50% of the reservation lacks electricity and running

water. The legislation will also create green jobs training programs in

collaboration with Diné College and Navajo Technical College.The legislation aligns with Native American cultural values, Johns says:“All indigenous nations have always had a philosophy of being caretakers of

Mother Earth. It’s something our people have been practicing for countless

generations and it’s nothing new for our people.”The newly established Navajo Green Economy Commission will take two years

to