HOLLYWOOD — Indian Country could easily modify the title of Barbara Mandrell’s hit song – “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” to make a point about the importance of renewable and alternative energies.
That’s because Indigenous people were sustainable before sustainable was cool.
The notion was on full display at the Seminole Tribe’s third annual “Renewable Energy & Sustainability Conference” from Feb. 11 to Feb. 13 at the Native Learning Center in Hollywood.
The conference attracts individuals from Indian Country – whether tribal members or employees – who are eager to share up-to-date information and best practices, exchange ideas and lead trainings on sustainability issues.
Tribes across the U.S. are facing the effects of climate change like many other communities.
Florida already deals with the effects that have come from sea level rise, more powerful king tides and drought conditions in the Everglades.
The issues involve energy security, or energy sovereignty, which Native Americans often cite as a top concern. The concerns range from the high cost of utilities to aging and unreliable infrastructure.
These topics and others were on the minds of more than 60 Tribal members and leaders, industry heads, managers and government officials who attended the conference this year.
Because the NLC is supported by an Indian Housing Block Grant, which is awarded by the Office of Native American Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), registration was free for Native Americans and those working within Indian Country.
Tomasina Chupco, NLC project specialist, opened the conference after Sunny Frank gave a welcome and opening prayer.
The first keynote presentation was about tribal energy development and deployment. It was given by Lizana Pierce and Thomas Jones (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma). The two, like all the presenters on the agenda, have long titles that would be hard to fit on a business card.
“These resumes are extensive. We have some true professionals here,” Chupco acknowledged at the start of the conference.
Pierce is the deployment supervisor at the U.S. Department of Energy in the office of energy policy and programs. She assists tribes in developing their energy resources.
Jones is an energy analyst with BGS, a contractor of the DOE office of energy. His work includes research regarding energy development in Indian Country.
Jones helps manage more than $22 million in grants with tribes in all states other than Hawaii.“I have a story about a friend I have who is a member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” Jones said before his presentation. “I was talking to him recently about coming out here to the Guitar Hotel resort, and I was like: ‘It is so baller that you have something like that.’ He was like: ‘We don’t think of it that way, we think that we’re blessed.’”
Jones said he thought about what his Seminole friend said for the rest of the day and especially when he joined a group that visited the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress.
“It’s really nice to learn more about the culture coming out here and things that have been overcome to get to the point where you are now,” Jones said.
“It really is amazing and I think a lot of people think of Seminoles as leaders in a lot of different ways and so I’m thankful that this conference is here to bring us all together to share things. It really is an honor to be here full of people who want to see meaningful change in their communities. We need it and deserve it. It’s a good day to be Indigenous and we can make tomorrow even better.”
The Tribe’s idea to host a conference focused on alternative energy began a few years ago after the Chairman’s Office put together an energy committee.
The committee’s goal, and that of the annual conference, is not only to keep the Tribe on the forefront of sustainability issues, but also to offer attendees an opportunity to learn more about the Tribe.
The NLC is located at 6363 Taft Street. To learn more about upcoming programs and services, go to nativelearningcenter.com.