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Tribe hosts second renewable energy conference in Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD — The Seminole Tribe’s idea to present a conference focused on alternative energy began a couple years ago, after the Chairman’s Office organized an “Energy Committee” consisting of Special Projects Administrator Cicero Osceola and Senior Director of Operations Derrick Smith, among others.

The goal in forming the committee and then a conference was to ensure the Tribe was on the forefront of best practices in renewable and sustainable energy issues, and also to share information with others.

For the second year, it hosted the Renewable Energy & Sustainability Conference at the Native Learning Center in Hollywood. The free, three-day conference took place Feb. 5 through Feb. 7. It brought together dozens of attendees, including Seminoles and Native Americans from across the country, as well as First Nations members from Canada.

“We appreciate you coming and returning and the new faces that we have this year,” said Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. when opening the conference.

Jeff Benavides, one of the conference presenters, and Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank chat with attendees during a break. (Photo Louis Porter Jr.)

“Every day a new person is born into the world. And that requires more energy for that person to live, right?” Chairman Osceola said.

The Chairman stressed the importance of the Tribe taking up the issue of energy and energy dependence, which include the use of renewable and alternative sources.

“As a Tribe we wanted to get in front of this. We’re still trying to learn. Twenty or 30 years ago alternative energy wasn’t something that was spoken about a lot. We thought fossil fuels would last forever,” Chairman Osceola said. “We don’t all live off the grid [although] we wish we could live off the grid like we once did.”

As the stature of the conference rises and evolves, the Tribe stands to position itself at the forefront of energy solutions for Tribal communities.

Why it’s important

Tribes across the U.S., as in many communities, are increasingly faced with the effects of climate change. In Florida, that means dealing with issues ranging from sea level rise to more powerful king tides and even drought conditions in some areas of the Everglades.

And scientists are virtually all singing in the same key when they place the acceleration of climate change, produced from CO2 discharge causing the “greenhouse effect,” as a largely manmade issue.

Further, experts say modern societies across the globe could learn a lot about living in harmony with the earth by studying the traditional environmental practices of Natives.

Attendees participate in the Seminole Tribe’s Renewable Energy & Sustainability Conference in early February at the Native Learning Center in Hollywood. (Photo Louis Porter Jr., NLC)

“In the past, our whole life depended on alternative energy, the sun,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank. “Everything that was provided for us was provided by the sun. As Tribes go through in the future, we’re going to have to go back to looking at the sun; we’re going to have to go back to looking at alternative energies.”

Rep. Frank told attendees that many Tribal communities are also “trapped” in power grids that do not serve them well.
“So a lot of the Tribes are looking for ways to stabilize their communities, stabilize their energy needs, and their energy demands of the future,” he said.

Native Americans often cite energy security, or energy sovereignty, as a top issue of concern. Those concerns range from the high cost of utilities to aging and unreliable infrastructure.

Ambitious agenda

The conference agenda put together by organizers focused on several areas and included many industry experts. Topics featured were the newly changing landscape for Tribal energy development and sustainability, best practices, federal leadership, policy and regulatory changes, project funding, and project planning/development trends.

Kevin M. Cunniff, the cataloging assistant at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress, said he was particularly impressed with a presentation by Jana Ganion.

Ganion is the sustainability director for the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe in California.

“[She] detailed the multifaceted approach this Tribal Nation has taken to implement a net zero carbon society, mitigate climate change effects by taking steps to promote ecosystem and natural resource resiliency, and assert sovereignty through independent energy, water and infrastructure development,” Cunniff said.

Cunniff said he believes the Seminole Tribe could benefit from Blue Lake’s model. He said Ganion was also willing to share information with any interested Tribal Nation, including providing onsite tours, contacts, access to legal advice, and stories about successes and failures.

Paul N. Backhouse, director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Tribal Historic Preservation Office, also attended and said the conference was a valuable opportunity to connect with the best practices of capacity building for energy sustainability across Indian Country.

“Some of the focused Tribal case studies were phenomenal and showed how much potential there is in this arena,” Backhouse said. “Our team got a ton of ideas for the Museum campus,” he said, adding that he’s interested in development of a micro grid at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki.

Attendees had fun, too

The Native Learning Center staff made sure to give attendees plenty of information about what to do when they weren’t at the conference.

Some stayed at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood and took advantage of all its amenities. Others got the golf clubs out and attended the Tribe’s inaugural “Chairman of the Greens” charity tournament on Feb. 8. In fact, the conference date was set specifically so attendees could attend the Tribal Fair and Pow Wow which ran Feb. 8 through Feb. 10.

Attendees came from the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, Sioux, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Penobscot Nation, Comanche Nation, Navajo Nation, Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Cherokee Nation and Red Lake Indian Reservation, and elsewhere.

The Native Learning Center is located at 6363 Taft Street in Hollywood. To access the conference agenda, and to learn more about their programs, go to nativelearningcenter.com, or email Louis Porter Jr., marketing coordinator, at louisporter@semtribe.com.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a staff reporter for The Seminole Tribune. Prior to moving to Florida, he was a reporter and editor for print and digital publications in his home state of New Mexico. When Damon’s not working on a story, you’ll probably find him at a hot yoga class or splashing around on some South Florida beach. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.

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