Environment | Opinion

Albert Bender: Solar energy plant approved over tribal concerns

Solar panels at the Genesis Solar Energy Project in Blyte, California. Photo by Thecyrgroup / Wikipedia

Albert Bender reveals how the Genesis Solar Energy Project in California destroyed a site sacred to the Colorado River Indian Tribes:
Nearly 3,000 artifacts were found during the construction of the 1,950 acre solar plant, most of which came from the 125-acre site that CRIT wanted to preserve. These artifacts included hundreds of metates, heavy flat stones used by Native women in ancient times to grind mesquite beans into meal and flour. A cremation site was also found on the site, said CRIT members. The Mohaves traditionally cremated the deceased and in fact cremate to this day. The artifacts also included many other tools that ancient Mohaves used to hunt, gather and prepare food.

The site is next to the ancient shore of what is now called Ford Dry Lake. Over thousands of years the lake held water during periods for as long as a century at a time. When it had water, the lake attracted waterfowl and other game and wild rice grew there. The lakeside village is described in traditional Mohave songs that have been passed from generation to generation for thousands of years. The area is along Native American travel and trade routes traveled by Mohave runners. These runners carried news and messages between Mohave settlements over vast stretches of desert.

An investigation by area media found that the Obama administration's rush to quickly approve and subsidize this large solar project on public land resulted in the destruction of the age-old site.

The project was approved by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2010. In November 2011, discovery of the artifacts on the plant's construction site compelled the Bureau of Land Management to meet with tribal representatives. Construction was halted on the 125-acre site because of the high density finding of the artifacts.

In May 2012, the BLM made the decision to allow construction to resume. The BLM stated it found no "conclusive evidence" of habitation, human remains or funerals. But tribal officials said the BLM had ignored Mohave culture. The Mohave people cremated their deceased and burned the dead person's possessions and home, which was made of wood. Hence, there would be no evidence of human remains or homes. But, there was evidence of a crematorium which would mean that funerals were obviously held and there was the burning of remains and possessions. Tribes felt the BLM was pulling a "fast one" in its decision.

Get the Story:
Albert Bender: Push for solar energy on public land destroys sacred Mohave site (People's World 6/4)

Also Today:
Northern California Tribe Harnesses Sun and Wind for Renewable Energy System (Indian Country Today 6/4)

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Opinion: Wind energy plan threatens sacred site in California (8/23)
Tribes uncover ancestral remains by solar site in California (4/24)

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