Clean Energy Economy Minnesota: Red Lake Solar Project, aspiring to energy sovereignty
Red Lake Nation secures first federal approval for energy developments
Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Indianz.Com

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Red Lake Nation is making history as the first in Indian Country to win federal approval for its energy development efforts.

The tribe, based in Minnesota, will now be able to enter into leases, business deals and rights-of-way without submitting every individual agreement to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for review. Red Lake’s designation as a Tribal Energy Development Organization (TEDO) eliminates bureaucratic hurdles that often stand in the way of economic development in Indian Country and can lead to millions of dollars in lost opportunities.

“The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians is reclaiming its sovereign authority to control the development of energy resources,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said in a news release on Wednesday.

“This is an exciting development that will lead to greater energy security for their people’s comfort and prosperity,” said Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community.

Red Lake Nation
Solar panels installed on the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota. Photo courtesy Red Lake Government & Public Relations

Tribes have been seeking ways to eliminate federal hurdles for decades. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which includes the provisions of the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act, was supposed to help streamline reviews of economic development projects in Indian Country.

But in the years since enactment in 2005, no tribe has ever sought approval under the Tribal Energy Resource Agreement (TERA) provisions of the law. Significant doubts about the process — many of them generated by the administration of former Republican president George W. Bush — prevented TERAs from becoming viable even though they were touted as a step toward greater self-determination during the GOP-controlled 109th Congress.

Congress has since taken action to address the concerns. The Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2017, a bill that was enacted through S.245 during the 115th Congress, paved the way for the Department of the Interior, the federal agency with the most trust and treaty responsibilities in Indian Country, to address both TEDOs and TERAs.

NowThis Earth: How the Red Lake Nation Is Building a Solar Future

“The department has an important trust responsibility to support tribes and tribal governments in protecting their people, lands, assets, and resources,” Wizipan Garriott, who serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, states in written testimony to Congress on Wednesday.

“This responsibility includes supporting and promoting economic development in American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities to support prosperity, meaningful livelihoods, and self-sufficient and sustainable economies,” said Garriott, a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Under federal regulations finalized last July, tribes now have a viable alternative to TERAs in the form of TEDOs. The Red Lake Nation submitted a TEDO application for Twenty-First Century Tribal Energy, Inc., in December, the BIA said in the news release on Wednesday.

According to the BIA, the tribe will be using the TEDO to develop renewable energy resources. Since 2016, the tribe has been focusing on solar energy on the reservation in northern Minnesota.

“The ultimate goal is for the Red Lake Nation to be energy independent, so that we do not have to rely on any outside sources for our electricity,” Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr., said in the 2020 State of the Band address.

The efforts at Red Lake so far have included the installation of solar panels on the largest buildings on the reservation. A solar energy farm to bring power to the community, as well as a solar energy plant that will manufacture products for the renewable energy industry, are also in the works.

Economic development initiatives, including energy development, government contracting opportunities and increased access to capital, are the subject of a hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday afternoon. In addition to Garriott from the Department of the Interior, senior officials from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy are slated to testify about the federal government’s role in fostering these kinds of opportunities.

According to Wahleah Johns, the director of Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs at the Energy Department, “many Native people today still live without electricity, or are dependent on fossil fuels for their energy needs – energy that is essential to provide Native people with light for their children to study by, refrigeration to keep food and medicine cold, heat to keep them warm, and energy to help their communities grow.”

Note: Video feed from Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will go live shortly before 4pm Eastern on March 16, 2022.

“These realities and unmet needs are not congruent with the vast untapped energy resources that exist on Native lands,” Johns, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, states in written testimony to the committee. “Tellingly, American Indian and Alaska Native communities’ interest and action in developing these resources have increased in recent decades. Like many communities in the United States, Native communities are working towards strengthening their economies and increasing their well-being and energy development is a foundational element to achieving these goals.”

The hearing is titled “Buy Native American: Federal Support for Native Business Capacity Building and Success.”

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice
Oversight Hearing “Buy Native American: Federal Support for Native Business Capacity Building and Success” (March 16, 2022)

Indian Affairs Approves First Ever Tribal Energy Development Organization
Action aids in restoring Tribal nation’s sovereignty over energy development on its lands

The following is the text of a March 16, 2022, news release from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior’s Office for the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs announced today that it has approved the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians’ application to create its Tribal Energy Development Organization. The action makes the Minnesota Tribe the first to receive such approval and will support their ongoing effort to develop renewable energy resources.

“The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians is reclaiming its sovereign authority to control the development of energy resources,” said Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “This is an exciting development that will lead to greater energy security for their people’s comfort and prosperity.”

A Tribal Energy Development Organization is a business organization in which the Tribe owns majority interest. TEDOs are an alternative to Tribal Energy Resource Agreements, both of which allow a Tribe to enter into and manage energy-related leases, rights-of-way, and business agreements without obtaining Secretarial approval for each individual lease, right-of-way, or agreement.

The approval and certification of Red Lake’s TEDO will allow Red Lake to forgo Secretarial review when it enters into a lease or business agreement with the TEDO and when it enters into rights-of-way with the TEDO.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in Minnesota submitted a request for certification of a Tribal Energy Development Organization on December 17, 2021. Through its application, Red Lake requested that Twenty-First Century Tribal Energy, Inc be approved and certified as a TEDO.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is headed by a director who is responsible for managing day-to-day operations through four offices – Indian Services, Justice Services, Trust Services, and Field Operations. These offices directly administer or fund tribally based infrastructure, law enforcement, social services, tribal governance, natural and energy resources, and trust land and resources management programs for the nation’s federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. The Bureau’s Division of Energy and Mineral Development in the Office of Trust Services administers the regulations addressing TEDOs and TERAs.

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