Joe Kennedy Tells Navajo He Sees Money In Wind - Sun
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK - Joseph Patrick Kennedy II and representatives of Citizens Energy Corp. blew into Window Rock Wednesday like a breath of fresh air, promising economic development and profit for the nation’s largest tribe from its most abundant resources - wind and sun.
The trademark Kennedy charisma and impassioned speech brought the Navajo Nation Council to its feet as the eldest son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy spoke of the poverty of Indian nations and prejudice in Congress against Native Americans.
But just as the 1960s was a time of revolution, this election year promises to be a time of great change, Kennedy said, with the same opportunity for changing the direction that this country takes over the course of the next eight years.
He reminded Council that their ancestors understood the importance of living in balance with nature, “that human beings aren’t all-powerful, that we don’t have some God-given right to just dig up and develop anything and everything that we see to the detriment of local communities as long as some people can get rich.”
Kennedy, 55, served 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and started Citizens, a non-profit energy company, about 30 years ago.
“We all remember the OPEC oil embargo of the 1970s and how there were enormous gas lines, the price of oil was skyrocketing, oil companies were making profits that were really astounding, and the poor were being left behind.”
Beginning in 1979 with oil-trading ventures in Latin America and Africa, Citizens has used revenues from commercial enterprises to channel millions of dollars into charitable programs in the United States and abroad.
”We sold solar farms, we sold wind farms, we created all sorts of businesses to go out and try to make a profit. With the profit we make, we try to help the poor. And that is what I’m here to talk with you about today,” he said.
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. announced Monday during his State of the Nation address that the Nation entered into an agreement in principle with Citizens on March 12 to explore wind energy development.
“We hope to develop the largest renewable energy project on Native American lands,” Shirley said.
The venture is expected to create up to 150 construction jobs, 10 to 20 permanent jobs, and provide about $3 million in annual tax and royalty revenues with an option for the Nation to acquire majority ownership in the future.
“You know much better than I will ever be able to tell you, the poverty rates of most Indian people in this country is a scourge on the reputation of the United States of America,” Kennedy said to rousing applause.
“Twelve percent of all Americans live in poverty. By comparison, 27 percent of Native Americans live in poverty; 43 percent of Navajos live in poverty.
“In the greatest depression that this country ever went through, 25 percent of the people of this country were unemployed. The unemployment rate among Native Americans today is twice what it was for all Americans in the Great Depression, and nobody says a word about it.”
He recalled coming to the Navajo Nation as a young boy with his father.
“There was a big press conference, and you know, the devastation that we saw as the result of drug and alcohol abuse on this reservation is something that I will never forget.” That trip, and the impression it made, has a lot to do with the direction his life has taken today.
“I worked for the federal government. I worked for the federal Anti-Poverty, and very, very quickly after I started working there, I began to think, “This isn’t an agency designed to help the poor get out of poverty. This is an agency that is designed to maintain the poor in poverty. And if you ask me, that’s what we’ve seen the BIA do for the last ...” His words were drowned out by applause.
“As a congressman of the United States, I saw first-hand the cover-up of what happened to the Indian Trust Fund. I saw what would happen when I chaired the Housing Committee, what would happen to Native American housing when it would get on the House floor.
“I’m telling you, you think there isn”t prejudice in this country against Native Americans, you go to the Congress of the United States and you wonder why the only way you have to make money is through gambling.
“The reason why Native Americans have gambling today is because the Congress of the United States didn’t have the guts to stand up and write the check that was necessary to provide for the housing ... “Again, his words were lost amid applause and whistles.
“I understand what it means to have to go in and fight for the poor ... to fight for people on the outside of political and economic power,” he said.
It’s time for a change, and time for a new kind of company, according to Kennedy. He is hopeful that Navajo and Citizens “will go out and start to develop the natural renewable resources that this tribe has been blessed by our Lord with.”
Kennedy said the last half hour of the plane ride into Window Rock was “a very bumpy little ride.” Though that tends to frighten some, “When Pete Smith, Roger Freeman and I start bumping around in an airplane, we love it“ and you know why? Because that means it’s windy as hell out there!
“So, guess what? You live in a windy place. There may not be a lot of oil and coal and gas left out there, but one thing you’ve got is wind; and you’ve got sun ... and with that we can make money.
“All of us at Citizens Energy are dedicated to try our best to lift the poor out of poverty, not by giving out a hand-out but giving a hand-up,” he said, adding that he believes the Navajo/Citizens partnership could be the envy of Indian people and all people that have energy development on their land.
Resources Committee Chairman George Arthur said Citizens, like other companies coming to Navajo, is interested in wind energy development in the Gray Mountain area.
“There is criteria that goes from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most quality type wind. I understand that the Gray Mountain area is in the upper 8, so I know that there’s a lot of interest there.
“I was just telling him (Kennedy) that my concern is a lot of these people come in and we don’t know their primary interest, other than making money off us, and we’re no longer interested in that kind of arrangement.”
Kennedy said Citizens is looking at Gray Mountain and a number of other sites.
“There are power lines, there’s a lot of the infrastructure that’s necessary to actually get this power developed. ... This is, I hope, the kind of initiative that would be welcomed.”
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