For many Americans, the protests at Standing Rock were an isolated event—one indigenous community, on one swath of land in South Dakota, fighting for environmental justice.
Yet, as Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II stood to accept the inaugural Henry A. Wallace Award in a second-floor conference room of the Andaz Hotel in midtown Manhattan on June 8, it became painfully clear that, for many Native Americans, this is a much larger and longer battle.
“It’s not an accident that indigenous communities are at the center of this conversation,” said Nick Tilsen, founding executive director of the Pine Ridge Reservation Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation. “The injustice we see at Standing Rock has happened to every single one of our communities at one point in time.”
Presented by the Wallace Global Fund, the Henry A. Wallace Award grants the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe $250,000 for their “unyielding courage” as common men and women standing up “against the oppressive combination of corporate and governmental power,” said Scott Wallace, co-chair of the fund.
The fund also pledged an investment of up to $1 million toward the tribe’s ongoing “100 percent” transition away from fossil fuels.
That shift toward clean energy, which Archambault says began about a decade ago, involves change on the individual, community, and commercial levels. In addition to helping all seven Sioux reservations sell clean wind and solar power to out-of-state buyers, the tribe’s goals include increasing their energy independence, developing models for other tribes, and creating work and educational opportunities in the renewable-energy sector for members of the tribe.
So far that’s meant selecting a site for the construction of a utility-scale wind-power generation and transmission system that would at least double South Dakota’s installed wind-power capacity and increase the nation’s total generated wind power by up to 3 percent. There are also plans to fit at least five Sitting Bull College buildings with solar electric systems, in addition to a wind-energy turbine built in 2011 that currently helps power Sitting Bull College’s science-and-technology and transit centers.