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In Indian Country, It’s Not the Weather, It’s the Racism That’s Leaving Thousands in the Dark

How do we explain the fact that of the 55,000 homes in the Navajo Nation, about 15,000 don’t have electricity—now, or at any time? 

Dawn breaks over homes and sandstone formations near the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which is closed until further notice on the Navajo Reservation on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Oljato-Monument Valley, AZ. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Dawn breaks over homes and sandstone formations near the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which is closed until further notice on the Navajo Reservation on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Oljato-Monument Valley, AZ. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Around 30,000 homes in Texas still have no power, and millions of Texans remain under a boil-water mandate days after a deadly winter storm wiped out that state’s weak water and energy systems. 

In Texas, president Biden has officially declared this scenario a disaster, and the state’s failed leadership stands squarely under attack. 

Media coverage has been empathetic. Audiences across the country have heard the heart-wrenching stories of people like eleven-year-old Cristian Pavon, who froze in his family’s mobile home, or Loan Le who died with her three grandchildren in a home fire in Sugarland.

They're turning to renewable energy to transition not just to cleaner power, but also to become self-sufficient from greedy utility non-providers.

But if deaths from lack of care, cold, and a lack of access to electricity are deemed disasters in Texas, how do we explain the fact that of the 55,000 homes in the Navajo Nation, about 15,000 don’t have electricity — now, or at any time? 

If the fragility of the grid is an emergency requiring urgent attention at all levels of government in Texas, how do we live with the decades-long reality that tens of thousands of families in Indian Country have had no electricity and limited cell and broadband access not for a day or a week, but for years already? 

Even as those needs got worse during the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no outcry about families unable to stay home because they couldn’t refrigerate food or kids struggling to learn remotely with no light for reading and no wifi for miles on the reservation. 

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In Indian country, it’s not the weather that’s the problem, it’s the racism and the disregard.  

The flip side of the indigenous story is that fed-up Native Americans have been helping themselves and each other. And they’re turning to renewable energy to transition not just to cleaner power, but also to become self-sufficient from greedy utility non-providers. Seeking energy independence, groups like Native Renewables have been advancing off-grid solar solutions to cut-off Navajo people, whether local government is supporting them or not. 

And one of the leaders of this transition, Wahleah Johns, has just joined the Biden administration where she’ll be heading up the Office of Indian Energy and sharing her experiences with the Navajo Nation and strategies for energy independence with thousands of other Indigenous communities. 

Who knows, maybe she’d be willing to talk to some fed-up Texans. 

You can see my interviews with up-and-coming indigenous leaders, and see them in action in local government, philanthropy, and self-organizing, this week on The Laura Flanders Show. Watch it on YouTube or on PBS stations across the country. Click here for listings

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including "Bushwomen: How They Won the White House for Their Man" (2005).  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media, and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media. lauraflanders.org

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