U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Tribal Energy Program

Cultural Issues

As the population on tribal lands grows and the pressing need for economic development and an improved quality of life on the reservation continues, tribes are increasingly faced with the challenge of meeting their energy needs. For tribes, part of that challenge is to meet their energy needs while maintaining their cultural identity and values.

Energy development on tribal lands is a balancing act. Energy development can provide local jobs, tribal income, and the satisfaction of energy self-sufficiency, while also providing important contributions to the broader energy-hungry U.S. economy. At the same time, energy development can damage the earth, streams, air, and even tribal culture if not carried out in an environmentally and culturally respectful manner. Thus is the challenge.

Some key questions for tribes include:

  • How to change with the times in a way that works for the entire community?

  • How can this be accomplished in a manner that respects tribal needs and values?

  • What are the trade-offs in between quality of life, economic development, and the environment?

To paraphrase the challenge: "Western development looks at things as resources. We look at them as relatives."

When considering energy alternatives, consider renewable energy. There is an inherent compatibility between renewable energy and traditional values that respect the earth, air, and water. Renewable power plants provide power without exhausting the resource and without polluting the environment. They are sustainable — the resource will be there for generations to come. They fit well within the web of nature.

This Guide is intended to provide useful information to help you make the best energy decisions for your tribe. The following are some aspects of the balancing act between energy development and tribal cultural values that you may wish to consider: