This article was originally published on Crosscut.
When green energy projects flourish across Washington, many will be in cultural sites that are important to the tribes in the area.
The Yakama Nation Natural Resources Director is torn over the increasing number of windmills and dams in his tribe’s ancestral territories. While Phil Rigdon (Yakama) supports the pursuit of greener energy sources, he has also been part of the tribe’s opposition to these developments when they adversely affect cultural sites. Developers don’t hear their concerns often.
“When people talk about green energy and energy development, we want to make sure it doesn’t happen on the back of our people as it has been before,” Rigdon said. “We want to be part of the green, but we don’t want our contractual rights, our access to food and our responsibility for our way of life to be further deteriorated.”
Those concerns were a driving force for members of the Yakama Nation when they decided to endorse the state’s Climate Commitment Act, Senate Bill 5126, which establishes a cap-and-trade system in Washington and the funds raised by the law would flow into projects to reduce CO2 emissions – including investments in green infrastructure projects. Key to the law was a tribal consultation for projects funded by the law that Rigdon and other supporters hoped would protect tribal lands in the future.
On May 17, Governor Jay Inslee signed the Climate Commitment Act but vetoed the part that called for a tribal consultation. In a letter to tribal leaders in Washington, Inslee expressed concern that the terms of this part of the bill were too “undefined and broad” and that while he supported the need for tribal consultation, the terms stated were “different from our current” government -to-government approach and does not properly recognize the mutual, sovereign relationship between tribal governments and the state. ”
Tribal counseling as a concept is not new to the state. Mike Faulk, a spokesman for the Inslee bureau, said state agencies are operating on a baseline that requires government-government consultation between the state and the tribes. Many state agencies, such as the Washington Department of Transportation and the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, have developed additional advisory protocols specifically for their agencies.
But proponents of this bill, which will pave the way for future green energy projects, say the portion of the tribal consultation vetoed by the governor would have added extra protection, especially since tribal voices are not often heeded by developers. Numerous state tribal leaders spoke out against Inslee’s decision, including Fawn Sharp, vice president of the Quinault Nation, and Robert de los Angeles, chairman of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, who issued a statement expressing their opposition.
Rigdon said the Yakama Nation supported the bill under this section, and if he had known about Inslee’s reservations, the tribe would have acted differently. They were not warned, and Rigdon wished there had been better communication before the decision was made.
“If he had it? [concerns], he should have talked to us, ”he says. “You didn’t answer until the last minute.”
In a letter to tribes across the state, Inslee said he wanted to continue discussions on improving government-government relations during a leadership summit this summer where “we can roll up our sleeves to develop improved procedures and agreements that move us forward “. A date for the summit has not yet been set.
Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Council, agreed with Inslee’s assessment of the veto part. He suspected that part of Inslee’s concerns may have centered on what a solution would be if a tribe turned down a project funded by the bill – a potential problem that the bill didn’t give much detail about.
“If you look at Section 6, it’s pretty short,” Allen said of the tribal counseling portion of the bill. “There’s not much to it and I think he wanted a little more process in it.”
Allen, as well as a few other tribal leaders, expressed optimism in further discussions to revise it. He reckons that the tribal leaders will be convened sometime this summer. But, he adds, revisions will require Inslee to identify exactly what was problematic about the part’s current language, which was initially unclear in his veto.
With more clarity, future discussions about tribal counseling will be more successful, says Allen, adding that he is hopeful for the future.
“The silver lining is that the tribes are much more active than ever in legislation,” said Allen.
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