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Conference explores tribal role in energy development

March 24, 2010

A conference focused on energy development and the role of tribes, now and in the future, is scheduled for March 25-26 in the Ventana Ballroom at ASU's Memorial Union.

"Tribal Energy Economies: Investing in a Sustainable Future" is sponsored by the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and the American Indian Policy Institute at ASU. The conference fee is $375 (by March 22), and $450 at the door. Register at

The conference will assemble experts in project financing and energy development and will promote the exchange of ideas between tribal leaders, federal and state policymakers, attorneys, financiers and academicians.

"The College of Law is a national leader on both Indian Law and Law and Sustainability," said Paul Schiff Berman, dean of the College of Law. "With this conference we will become a key player in the creation of energy and development strategies in Indian Country, and we will provide the intellectual resources so that mutually beneficial deals can be struck."

The Indian Legal Program is proud to sponsor the conference on the future of energy development in Indian Country, said Rebecca Tsosie, professor and executive director of the Indian Legal Program and an affiliate professor in ASU's American Indian Studies Program.

"The issue is of global and national importance, given the major shifts in energy policy that are likely to occur in response to climate change," said Tsosie, a Willard H. Pedrick Distinguished Research Scholar at the College of Law.

"Indian nations are poised to become global leaders in this discussion, as they explore whether and how to develop renewable and alternative energy resources, in addition to conventional forms of energy production. Many tribal communities possess deeply embedded cultural norms of sustainability that can inform tribal energy policies, as well as national energy directives. We look forward to an active and inspirational set of presentations, and we are honored to host these leaders at ASU."

Energy production offers great potential for sustainable economic development in Indian country, said Carl Artman, professor and director of the College of Law's Economic Development in Indian Country Program.

"The foundation of a tribal energy economy will be the land and infrastructure of the tribe, but success will be built on the imagination and determination of the leadership," Artman said. "This conference, the first of a series that will focus on tribal economic development, will bring together leaders from Indian country, policy development, business, and finance. It will provide a platform for veterans of traditional energy development to trade experiences with those on the precipice of new forms of production, while simultaneously providing both networking and learning opportunities."

The conference is the first opportunity people will have to speak with and question the authors of new federal energy legislation, the Indian Energy Promotion and Parity Act of 2010. U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, recently released a discussion draft of the bill, which seeks to address many of the challenges facing Indian tribes as they try to establish a foothold in the larger energy development industry. The proposed legislation contends with rights-of-way across Indian lands, inclusion of tribes in regional and state infrastructure planning, and financing matters. 

Conference panels include: A Brief Look Back to the Past with and Eye to the Future, Federal Initiatives that Will Help Define the Future; The Impact of Current Legislation on Indian Country Energy Economies, The Business of RPS, Carbon Markets, and Indian Country, Renewable Energy on Indian Lands, Alternative Energy on Indian Lands, Logistics and Transmission, Financing of Energy Projects and Tribal Infrastructure and Sustainability.

Larry EchoHawk, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, and other invited panelists include tribal, governmental, financial and corporate experts, including representatives of the Osage Nation, the Navajo Nation, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, Quinault Indian Nation, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Campo Kumeyaay Nation, National Congress of American Indians, and the Gila River Indian Community.

Rep. Christopher Clark Deschene (D-St. Michaels), a panelist on the session, "The Impact of Current Legislation on Indian Country Energy Economies," said he is anticipating a productive and informative discussion of U.S. House and Senate energy policy development as it pertains to current energy projects in Indian Country.

"As Indian Country progresses into the 21st century, energy policy must be considered as a vital component to building economies and strengthening tribal sovereignty," Deschene said. "I believe tribes, corporations and utilities all recognize the importance of energy development in Indian Country."

Participating energy entities include Ta-Té Topa (Four Winds) Energy Corp., TectaSolar, Oneida Seven Generations Corp, Warm Springs Power & Water Enterprises, Diné Power Authority, APS, Citizen's Wind, Solventerra LLC, and NativeEnergy. There also will be representatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, the Arizona Legislature, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Agriculture for Rural Development, as well as numerous financial and legal experts.

Tracey LeBeau, a tribal energy attorney and director of the Indian Country Renewable Energy Consortium (ICREC), will moderate the conference panel, "Logistics and Transmission, which will examine the critical importance of, obstacles and opportunities for energy infrastructure growth.

"All the energy generation in the world is only as good as our ability to get it to market," said LeBeau, senior managing director at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP in Phoenix. "A heretofore untapped critical mass of renewable resources is in Indian Country. Indian Country needs transmission and infrastructure investments and is ready to step up as partners, rather than simply hosts, for projects and for infrastructure."

The conference will offer the tools for Indian energy entrepreneurs to chart a course for tribes to increase their leverage now and create sustainable energy economies for the future. Participants will discuss strategies to promote investment and prepare tribes for a transition into sustainable energy economies, and examine the economic and cultural issues associated with large-scale build-outs on tribal lands.

"I hope participants will learn to look at energy, not just as a single event opportunity, but a chance for Indian communities, and those communities surrounding Indian Country, to look at the entire energy value chain – infrastructure, manufacturing, renewable generation, green jobs, clean technology development," said James Gray, ICREC Board President and principal chief of the Osage Nation, who will deliver the conference's introductory remarks. "And Indian Country isn't going anywhere. The jobs Native American tribes and corporations create will stay native to America."

The conference is designed for tribal leaders, directors, attorneys and council members; bankers and financiers working in Indian country or in the traditional or renewable energy sector; energy engineering consultants and providers of technical professional services in architecture, building, engineering design and planning. For more information, contact Darlene Lester at 480-965-7715, or

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law