“We need to create a way of life where a community is not forced to cannibalize their mother in order to live.”
—Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabe activist
POWER PATHS offers a unique glimpse into the global energy crisis from the perspective of a culture pledged to protect the planet, historically exploited by corporate interests and neglected by public policy makers.
The film follows an intertribal coalition as they fight to transform their local economies by replacing coal mines and smog-belching power plants with renewable energy technologies. This transition would honor their heritage and support future generations by protecting their sacred land, providing electricity to their homes and creating jobs for their communities.
Their story is a parable for our time, when the planet as a whole hungers for alternatives to fossil fuels. For environmental trailblazers, it’s proof that going green is not only possible—it’s the only choice we have.
The POWER PATHS story begins in the 1960s, when two massive coal mines open on Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona. Between them, they produce enough coal to satisfy the unquenchable energy thirsts of Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. They also comprise the single largest strip-mining complex in the world. For more than 30 years, the mines—and the Mohave Generating Station they supply—scar sacred native land, drain the natural aquifers and pollute the Southwestern skies.
Meanwhile, beneath the high-tension power lines that carry electricity to the neon-saturated Vegas Strip, Native American reservation dwellers have no electricity or running water.
Sickened by the economic disparity and the mounting toll on their land and health, some Navajo and Hopi tribe members begin pressuring their tribal governments not to renew the mining leases, but to no avail. As a result, a handful of grassroots organizers from both tribes join forces with The Sierra Club, the Grand Canyon Trust and the National Parks and Conservation Association to fight back. Calling themselves the Just Transition Coalition, they take on wealthy and entrenched adversaries from Peabody to Southern California Edison.
They succeed in closing the power plant (and subsequently the mines) in 2005. But the ecological and moral victory comes at a cost: About half of the adults on the reservations had worked for the mines, and are now unemployed.
Undeterred, the Just Transition Coalition shifts gears and heads for California, where they win a legal battle to use the shuttered Mohave plant’s cap-and-trade pollution credits to finance investment in solar panels and wind turbines for their reservations.
In one scene, a Navajo mother screws a light bulb into a kitchen socket for the first time and sees it light up, enabling her children to stop depending on sunlight or dangerous kerosene lanterns in order to do their homework. She weeps in relief and gratitude.
Today, more tribes are seeking investments and partnerships to create green-energy economies on the reservation, with hopes that one day, renewable energy will replace casinos as a primary means for economic development and tribal self-sufficiency.
As the nation at large struggles to disengage itself from the chains of a fossil-fuel-based economy, POWER PATHS signals cause for hope that an alternative is not somewhere in the future, but possible right now. And Native Americans are leading the way.
In June 2009, the 21st Navajo Nation Council voted 62 to 1 to establish a Navajo Green Economy Commission, according to the Sierra Club. The legislation, which is designed to take advantage of federal stimulus funds for green jobs, is intended to stimulate the economy by developing a sustainable energy infrastructure on the Navajo reservation.
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