December 16, 2021

This first was published in the Arizona Daily Sun – here.

Oped by Arizona State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai (Navajo/Dine’ of the Tangle People Clan, born for the Tobacco Red House Clan, maternal grandchild of the Deer Water Clan and paternal grandchild of the Cliff Dweller Clan), represents District 7 in the Arizona State Senate. She is a member of the Navajo Nation and an army veteran

Arizona State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai

The United States is the richest country on earth, but there are still communities living in impoverished conditions. As the climate crisis worsens, bringing drought, wildfire, and extreme heat, those conditions become more desperate, with tribal communities some of the hardest hit. Every day, we are fighting to hold onto our culture, community, and sacred spaces. The Build Back Better Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to combat this crisis. It’s time for the Senate to pass this monumental bill to make life better for Indigenous communities and for all Americans.

As a member of the Navajo tribe and the Tangle People Clan, as well as an elected leader representing Arizona’s 7th Senate district, I work day in, day out to make Arizona a safer and more just place for all. Arizona is home to 23 tribes[JK1] , 8 of which are in my district. However, our communities are being disproportionately harmed by climate change and the extreme weather this crisis is fueling.

Arizona already averages 50 dangerous heat days per year, the second highest of any state in the country. By 2050, scientists project we will experience 80 such days each year. This extreme heat is particularly harmful for Indigenous communities because so many lack access to electricity in their homes. Of the 55,000 households located on Navajo lands, an estimated 15,000 are without electricity. Communities confronting rising temperatures without basic services like air conditioning will be in harm’s way.

This Build Back Better Act is critical for Native Americans because we haven’t had the chance to build up in the first place. Federal policies and state policies have always put Indigenous communities on the back burner, and the Build Back Better Act includes infrastructure dollars that would create — for the very first time – critical infrastructure in communities that have never had electricity or clean water.

Native Americans also have the highest rate of national military service of any population. Many of us joined the military because of poverty. We have the highest unemployment rates in the country and often live in conditions that have no infrastructure and no hope for employment. The provisions for the Civilian Climate Corps included in the Build Back Better Act could be a massive opportunity for us, creating family-sustaining jobs while working to protect our lands from climate change.

We’re asking for very basic improvements – the ones most other Americans take for granted. Clean water and electricity, livable housing, breathable air, and the infrastructure that makes all those things possible shouldn’t be a luxury – they should be a given. We need provisions that give tribal communities transition and relocation assistance for those most vulnerable to the climate-driven displacement that comes from the rapidly changing climate.

Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly have a responsibility to do what is best for Arizona and the state’s most vulnerable, and that means championing this critical piece of legislation.

Native Americans are the original caretakers of lands, waters, skies, and all living things and are the most vulnerable because of climate change. This Build Back Better Act is critical for us, our children, and our future. It’s time for the Senate to act now on the BBBA and to take steps to prioritize tribal communities so that our treasured lands can be a place where families and communities can thrive for generations to come. Senators Sinema and Kelly, we’re counting on you.