Op-ed: How federal investments are empowering Navajo People

Op-ed: How federal investments are empowering Navajo People

Aerial shot of a solar plant near Gila Bend, Arizona. The power plant is a parabolic trough plant, with molten salt thermal energy storage.

By JoAnn Armenta

February 14, 2024

In an op-ed, JoAnn Armenta of Lupton, Arizona highlights the impacts that President Biden’s policies are having on the Navajo people in Arizona.

My work has long been driven by ancestral wisdom and knowledge with the goal of serving people and the planet. I served 15 years as the Department of Energy’s Southern California Clean Cities Coalition Coordinator until I retired in 2010. The program began under the Clinton Administration with the intent of reducing our dependence on Fossil Fuels in the Transportation Sector.

During my tenure, I saw funding for clean energy technology come and go depending on the level of support from leaders in Washington. Having this perspective, I was hopeful the Biden administration would revive clean energy development and deployment of solar technology in the Southwest.

As I anticipated, Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act increased funding to the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice initiatives.

My organization, Purpose Focused Alternative Learning, applied for an environmental justice grant from the EPA and was awarded to create the Navajo Solar Technology Training Program as a model that was later adopted by the Navajo based Diné College School of Transformation. Our Diné Solar Warrior Workforce are trained and certified to install and maintain solar systems in their varied applications. Our hope is for these graduates to eventually run their own small solar businesses and install systems as solar usage booms in our reservation and across Indian Country.

Our students get classroom training on the theory of Solar On-grid and Off-grid systems. Graduates are then awarded the opportunity to work with our solar industry partners for hands-on training in the field to learn how to complete an actual solar system install. Students who demonstrate their interest in building a Solar career are provided that opportunity, setting them up for financial independence and autonomy for years to come.

Our organization’s goal is to serve native communities that have been historically underserved and forgotten. These native communities across Arizona are behind on basic infrastructure and even electricity access, so the opportunities provided by our program are life changing to program participants. They then return to their communities with not just solar installation education, but personal empowerment as well.

Our motto is “people and planet.” Indigenous communities, like my own, rely on the knowledge of our ancestors to tend to our land and work towards a positive climate future for us all. I use my education, lived experiences, and ancestral wisdom together in this work. It means a lot to have a presidential administration support this important work done by our community and make historic investments to climate through the Inflation Reduction Act.

The federal grants we receive have made it possible for our program to expand to more communities in Navajo Nation. This semester, we’re starting to expand to new campuses to accommodate more interested students. And recent grants have allowed us to build portable classrooms/trailers that are outfitted with solar technology so we can reach students directly in their communities. The eventual goal of Purpose Focused is to expand outside of Navajo Nation to other first nation colleges across the country. This expansion will only be possible with continued investment towards solar energy and native communities.

It’s our role and responsibility to invest in communities in need across our country. We’re blessed to have this period of investment thanks to the Biden administration and we must continue to direct these funds to the communities that need them the most, including those served by Purpose Focused educational programs. Our work is only beginning and, with the help of these timely energy investments from the federal government, we are on a path to expand our program and continue empowering communities in Arizona for years to come.

Author

  • JoAnn Armenta

    JoAnn Armenta is the CEO of Purpose Focused Alternative Learning, an organization based in Arizona that trains members of Navajo Nation on clean energy and solar installation.

CATEGORIES: CLIMATE | POLITICS
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