From Paris to Pine Ridge: The Sioux Have a Climate Solution

It’s a breeze: Flags snap in the wind on the Yankton reservation
A version of this article appeared in Indian Country Media Network in June 2017.

In defiance of President Trump’s plans to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, cities, states and companies countrywide are joining global efforts to control climate change. The Sioux will be part of the solution as well, said Rosebud Sioux tribe member Dan Gargan. He sits on the board of Oceti Sakowin Power Authority (OSPA), a giant Sioux-owned wind farm that’s getting underway in the Northern Plains.

The blustery region been called the Saudi Arabia of wind power and is said to be able to fill the United States's entire energy needs several times over with emissions-free, sustainably produced electricity. “We tribes see ourselves as custodians of the environment,” Gargan said. “This project is something we have wanted for a long time.”

Oceti Sakowin means Great Sioux Nation in Lakota/Dakota, and the participating tribes—from the Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, Crow Creek, Cheyenne River, Rosebud, Yankton and Flandreau reservations—hope more Sioux communities will join them as the project moves forward.

OSPA has been assisted by the Clinton Global Initiative, among other groups. Former President Bill Clinton has called it “one of my favorite commitments.” He has said that OSPA will contribute to U.S. energy independence with clean sustainable energy while building a better future for the tribes. He has called the project’s potential “staggering.”

The utility-scale project is the first of its kind in the U.S. in decades. It will sell energy to the national wholesale market at an auspicious moment. That’s because big companies’ market share of wind energy keeps expanding, according to Caroline Herron of Herron Consulting, which has worked with OSPA since its beginnings. “In 2015, corporations bought more than fifty percent of wind energy for the first time, which was more even than the utilities,” Herron said.

Gargan said OSPA will soon select a developer/operator partner for project completion and set a timeline for future stages, including constructing wind turbines on the tribes’ land.

Text and photo c. Stephanie Woodard.

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