The Argument for Taking Local Economic Development Initiatives

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       Chapter 18: Weaving Economic Sustainability, Renewable Energy, and
                            Community Development
                               Larrisa Tacheene

   This chapter introduces concepts that will be helpful in implementing the first phase

of community development. It is imperative that the understanding of economic

sustainability and renewable energy be included in community plans to continue to

develop Indian Country’s community development. Sound development plans will, in

turn, establish a firm cultural foundation.

       A belief that economic development is an adjunct to community
       development. A conviction that whatever the endeavor, the energy driving
       it needs to come from a broad range of citizens. A belief that the climate in
       which businesses and labor interact must be beneficial to both. A deeply
       held notion that development has to be a two-way street. (Grisham 1999,


   A sustainable economy will emphasize sustainable employment and economic

demand management (Roseland 1992, 215). Here are four examples of sustainable

employment. The first is turning compost and trash into resources, such as recycling.

Second is energy and material use efficiency, a case in point would be planning the

density use in a community. Third is greater reliance on renewable energy sources, such

as the conversion from liquid gas to natural gas vehicles. Fourth is increasing community

self-reliance, an example would be wind or solar energy generation. One example of

economic demand management is the thinning of underbrush in forests surrounding a

community and to use the excess wood from the thinning for a beneficial purpose such as

the Hogan Project. i


   Communities in Indian Country understand how underprivileged they are and why

they continue to be disadvantaged. These communities should embrace the rapid

development of technology and the sudden enclosure of global economic forces.

Community members can use technology to benefit their commun ties by “creating an

economy to keep people on the (their) land” (KenCairn 2001). Others are taking steps to

learn the about the economic environment that has encompassed their tribes. These

members of the community have begun to apply their knowledge to assist their

communities and the tribe as a whole.

   Opportunities for advancement in Indian Country are rising due to increased

economic development on many reservations. Low-income communities, such as those

within the Navajo Nation, began their economic development process by utilizing

minority targeted support programs such as the Small Business Administration and the

Center for American Indian Economic Development (CAIED). ii This approach is helpful

to entrepreneurs and to others who are self-propelled to help this process. The

entrepreneurs then begin to transfer their knowledge to other members of the community.

   Second, incentives to attract corporations are then constructed to produce jobs,

however, this approach still benefits the corporation and not the local tribe. The

productive assets of the communities are left in the hands of external interests motivated

primarily by profit margins rather than community well being. Thus, patterns of

economic inequality are unaltered and the positive impacts on the community are not of

significant scale (Shavelson 1990).


   “According to a survey conducted by the Division of Economic Development in

December, 1997, the civilian labor force on the Navajo Reservation consisted of 51,468

individuals. Of that figure, 45.8 percent were unemployed” (CAIED 2000). The Navajo

Nation currently has two colleges, Dine College and Crownpoint Institute of Technology.

Several universities offer long-distance education centers on the reservation. Many

college graduates accept lucrative offers from off-reservation employers because they are

unable to find suitable employment on their respective reservations. This process

accounts for the demographic change that affects the local economy by shifting the

supply of human resources.

   Reservation communities do not have the resources to expand their current economic

situation. For example, the limited employment situation iii does not support the needs of

families with young children. This segment of the population is expected to continuously

increase at a rapid rate. Thus, the community may need more day care facilities,

classroom space, and teachers. Conversely, while the population of elderly people

continues to grow on the reservation, the community may need specialized transportation,

more geriatric care, and a new nursing home. Plans for development in these areas need

to be created.

   The following four steps will clarify the reasons for demographic shifts in terms of

labor. First, a community must determine the age distribution and why it is changing.

Second, identify specific groups and determine if these groups are likely to increase or

decrease in number. Third, find out if there is a higher rate of emigration or immigration.

Last, to determine where these people are going to and where they are from (Salant 1990,


   Demographics of moderately growing populations can be estimated more accurately

than rapidly growing or declining populations. These two guidelines can help with an

investigation about demographic shifts. Averaging several population estimates is usually

more accurate than relying on only one estimate. Populations of smaller places are more

likely to be overestimated than the populations of larger areas (Salant 1990, 29).

   The slow rising job creation and employment rates can be offset to some extent using

education. Many tribes have opened tribal colleges; presently there are 32 tribal colleges

in the United States. iv Each institution is investing in their human resources, however,

many tribes will not see immediate results. The payoff may not come for a decade, but it

will come. In the meantime, it is pertinent that the tribe continues to build their economy

so that these graduates will have opportunities to work at home.


   Homes within reservations no longer resemble those of previous generations. Many

communities have clustered housing built by Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

These houses can be categorized as the simple, fast, low-cost answer to housing

problems. In many communities, including those on Navajo or Pine Ridge reservations,

the home means so much more than shelter. People have learned to share, live simply,

and without many of the benefits that people receive off the reservation. Demographic

issues, such as household population, density, income, and age, will provide essential

information about existing conditions of an area and will help forecast future demand and


   “A working definition of a community might be a collection of people, including

individuals both large and small, sharing a common and mutual sense of value” (Joint

Use Design Project 1996). The value is benefiting from being a member of the

community. It includes the responsibility of caring for the community. Without the sense

of ownership, the community has no common grounds in which they communicate. This

is one reason why HUD projects did not work well in Indian Country. Within the past

decade, several Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) v houses on the Navajo Reservation

were given to the renters after they had been renting for well over 20 years. Additional

projects, such as the Hogan Project, will allow individuals to own their homes. The

shared responsibility of caring for the community should then be placed among the



   Local governments of Indian Country must take responsibility and bring together

resources that attend to the problems facing their communities. Goals set by the local

governments must have an understanding that present and future generations have a right

to a healthy and sustainable productive environment. vi Other objectives that must be met

are to measure targets in both the short and long-term. Incremental gains are beneficial,

however, the long-term impact is what the community members request most.

   Urban management as described here is not aligned with many of the beliefs of the

people in Indian Country. The rapidly growing population of Indian Country has resulted

in countless people leaving the reservation; many of who desire to return to their

respective homelands someday. Two changes will need to be made to achieve sustainable

development and will be difficult to implement in many areas of Indian Country. The

first is for housing authorities in Indian Country to design cluster communities instead of

scattered housing areas. The other is to find a way to make fellow community members

pay for the costs of remediation, but keep in mind that it is even more important to

prevent pollution and the waste of resources in the first place.

   In addition, the Navajo Nation has set a goal of completing Comprehensive Land Use

Plans for all its chapters by the year 2003. Land use plans may include water and sewer

lines for use by homes and business. It will also delineate land for preservation,

residential, recreational, commercial, and industrial uses (CAIED 2000). It may also

provide a framework for the type of housing development and building codes used in the

area mentioned above.


   Several policy applications are needed to solidify a basis for a sustainable community

lifestyle. A variety of methods, including appropriate technologies, recycling, and waste

reduction, are adaptations that will help communities reduce their current levels of

materials and energy consumption. Zoning ordinances create rules of where and how

business will be conducted in certain areas. Ideas of urban sustainability are illustrated in

Roseland’s, Toward Sustainable Communities (1992, 38).

   Mixed-use zoning includes streets devoted to walking, cycling, and public transport.

Other ideas include the heavy reliance on renewable energy sources and rooftop gardens.

Efforts are underway to promote recycling in Indian Country. However, community

members need to understand how to separate compost from trash. The integration of

work and home in the mixed-use zoning design will reduce the need for travel. The

reduction in travel time is essential to maintaining a healthy work/life balance by

allowing people to spend time at home with their families.

   Each type of renewable energy must have guidelines to effectively use that source of

energy. For example, solar ordinances will allow the best use of solar energy in an urban

or rural setting. Ordinances can protect solar access to the south face of buildings during

solar heating hours. Ordinances can complement planned use and expected densities of

solar energy to adapt to existing development and vegetation. Solar access ordinances

may include, but are not limited to: the orientation of streets and lots, the placement and

orientation of buildings, and the type and placement of trees on public street rights of way

and other public property (Roseland 1992, 158).


   Community groups are effective in voicing the needs and concerns of their respective

community. There are four elements in forming an effective community group. The first

is to give each member the opportunity to express his or her opinion. At times, a few

members of the group may oppose the majority opinion, however, it has been proven that

if the minority group is fully heard, they may not block the majority vote. Community

leaders, residents, key stakeholders, elected officials, school principal, key teachers,

parent association members, businesses, church and religious organizations, institutions,

community clubs, and nonprofit agencies are different segments of a community that

should be invited to the group.

   Objectives of the group must be approved by a majority of its members. A constant

feedback loop should be maintained to ensure consistent communication. Some people

from outside the group may be invited to meetings to share important insights. These

people, many of whom have experience in community development, are considered


   Members of community groups must take on certain roles. One role is a host, the

person who plays this role will make sure the group has the appropriate facilities for

group meetings. In addition, the host will ensure proper arrangements are made for

dignitaries. Another role is the facilitator, this person will set agendas for meetings and

make sure the meeting achieve the set goals. A third role is a scribe. The scribe will

record activities of the group. A fourth role is the spark plug. A spark plug is essential

because they know how to motivate the group and keep them moving in the set direction.

   It is extremely important to realize the value of a collective effort in communicating

with large government bodies. More attention is paid to an organization, even small,

local neighborhood groups. Signed letters coming from a large number of people,

especially in their own words, carries more weight than one to two responses, however

sincere and informed. vii


   Community groups will hold many types of meetings depending on the tone they

want to set. Private or confidential information are discussed at one-to-one meetings.

Decisions concerning the neighborhood are made at neighborhood committee meetings;

this type of meeting must have a climate that should be formal and yet public enough to

allow community members to watch. This is where many communities provide

information to members to be discussed at a later date. An all-community meeting is in a

formal setting with people outside the community in attendance. Usually, this type of

meetings will discuss issues of concern to neighboring communities. Due to the

uncertainty of the reactions of the audience, this type of meeting must send public

information cautiously with regard to all who are in attendance.

   The most informal of all meetings are living room meetings where a handful of

people will gather to exchange information. Evening meetings are like committee

meetings but semi-informal and to a public audience. The goals of these meetings are to

provide information to a limited public audience. Focus groups are different from the

meetings mentioned above; these meetings target a group who will provide specific

feedback to proposals.


    Community groups must either be in development or response mode (Buncom

Citizens Committee, 8). Many communities in Indian Country will need to be in

development mode. Response mode is when a problem is handed to a community, for

instance, the renovation of cluster housing. Development mode is when the community

has ideas that they would like to implement or have heard. Community development must

“start at the community level where people are at” (KenCairn 2000). In addition, goals

must be set on issues the members are most concerned about.

    Priority setting should be the primary responsibility of the group. Priorities will allow

the group to set objectives for the group to adhere to. Setting priorities means listing the

steps you need to take in the order they should be taken. Priority setting begins with an

outline of an idea. This can be accomplished by brainstorming ideas that group members

already have, what they already know about the ideas, and where to obtain useful

information about the ideas. As mentioned earlier, an experienced outside person may be

useful in determining a suitable time frame for the idea. A decision must be made about

the idea.

    Targeting specific, measurable, goals are crucial to economic and community

development. To determine incremental achievements, the community group must

measure progress toward meeting them. One common pitfall in measuring progress is to

measure everything. It is advised that the group focuses only one measure at a time

(Ratner 2000, 10).

    The community group must devise measures that are broad in focus and can be

changed as progress is calculated. If the group meets the measure it has set, then it should

have accomplished a part of the goal. Measurement provides tangible evidence of

progress that motivates community members to keep at it. Measurement helps us know

where we are now, and to get to where we want to be. Members of the group may provide

measurements and indicators on the best way to achieve their goals. An indicator is

something that must be changed, or a condition that must be achieved, in order to claim

that progress is being made toward a goal (Ratner 2000, 18).

   Next, deadlines and steps to accomplishing targets in order to meet the deadlines must

be made. A flow chart or other pictorial chart that shows progress will be displayed at a

group office and during meetings to keep the issue at the forefront of the group members’

minds. At this time, assignments to members are made. Each step must have a person

appointed to it. These assignments are tentative and will most likely be changed later and

the full responsibilities of each step become clearer.

   When the duties of each member become apparent, the project leader will delegate

responsibilities to members. The members who have been assigned responsibilities must

accept them and confirm that they have the resources to accomplish the task they have

been given. Deadlines and a format to report information will be determined. An

important reminder is to document each step.

   Collecting data for information regarding Indian Country may be cumbersome.

Finding the exact information that one is looking for will be few and far between.

Contacting the tribal office will also be helpful. Beware that some offices may not be able

to provide support while others can only direct you to other sources. Begin your search at

a local library or a nearby college library. It will be most useful to find a well-informed

reference librarian who can assist you in tracking down documents, phone numbers, and

personal contacts (Salant 1990, 15-16). After reviewing the documents gathered, it would

be best to look into the bibliography to find additional resources.


    The chapter has attempted to solidify the relationships among the concepts of

economic sustainability, renewable energy, and community development. Communities

in Indian Country will need to make significant changes to ensure the success of a strong

cultural foundation. Smith states that, “sustainable economic systems can work hand in

hand with developing cultures” (2001, 23). A strong cultural foundation cannot be

developed without the three concepts discussed in this chapter.


i This website has extensive information regarding the Hogan
    Center for American Indian Development is located in Building 72, Northern Arizona
University, Flagstaff. Has more information on “Doing business on the Navajo Nation.”
    Smith, p.136. An expansion of this concept is thoroughly discussed in Smith’s book.
iv This website has links to each of the tribal
college’s websites.
    NHA is the largest provider of housing to the Navajo people.
    Toronto Declaration on World Cities and Their Environment, 1991. See Roseland, p.
297 for a text copy of the declaration.
     Buncom Citizens Committee, p.7. This is a pamphlet and does not have information on
the year it was published.