Op-ed by Arizona State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai, Army Veteran

December 11, 2021

AZ state Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, Army Veteran

I am Navajo of the Tangle People Clan. born for the Red House Clan and I represent legislative district number 7 in Arizona. Arizona has 23 tribes and eight of those are in my district,  the largest legislative district in the country. There are over 500 tribes.

Tribal treaty obligations insist that Congress consider the long-term climate change implications and impacts on tribal communities.

The Build Back Better Act includes expanded clean energy, water and other climate priorities that are not part of the bipartisan infrastructure plan.

This Build Back Better Act is critical for Native Americans in the United States because we haven’t had that opportunity and the chance to build up in the first place. Federal policies and State policies have always put Native American communities on the back burner, and so, the Build Back Better Act has infrastructure dollars in there that would create – for the very first time –  infrastructure to communities and populations that have never had running water or electricity. We are living in Third World conditions within the midst of the United States, the most developed and powerful country in the world in 2021.

We also have the highest rate of service among our Native American populations. Many of us joined the military because of poverty. We have the highest unemployment rates in the country and are living in conditions that have no infrastructure and no hope for employment. We are desperately awaiting  a ray of hope from the Senate.

The Build Back Better Act is our once-in-a-generation chance to protect our communities and treasured lands against the climate crisis.

Building back better for Arizona’s tribal nations means providing access to resources and increasing funding to support the development of critical water infrastructure for tribal communities. Researchers with the U.S. Water Alliance and DigDeep found that race is the “strongest predictor” of water access and that Native households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack complete plumbing..

The climate crisis has brought unprecedented fires, drought, water shortages and extreme heat. Without action, things will only get worse. We need provisions that give tribal communities transition and relocation assistance for our members most vulnerable to the climate-driven displacement that comes from the rapidly changing climate.

It is estimated that 75 percent of U.S. homes without electricity are located on the Navajo Nation. In March 2021, the Navajo Nation solidified leases for two new solar plants on the reservation, which can start to help power some of these homes. The plants are expected to bring in $90 million in energy transmission payments, $13 million in land lease payments, and $6 million in tax revenue for the tribe, as well as power. Some of the income will go toward connecting more Navajo homes to the power grid and keeping rates down for tribal customers, according to the tribal utility. But more needs to be done.

Native Americans are the original stewards of lands, waters, skies and all living things, and are the most vulnerable communities when it comes to the effects of climate change.

We are directly impacted by climate change, every day. If you don’t have AC and the temperatures keep rising  higher and higher every year you are in harm’s way.

This Bill Back Better Act  is critical for us, for not only our elders and our children and the future. It will create a foundation for all future generations to move forward.

We’re asking for the very basic improvements – that every other American takes for granted.

 The Build Back Better Act is a first step for us because we haven’t had the opportunity before. It addresses so many very fundamental basic things that every other American have. We must have this for our veterans, and to join the rest of the world in what can only be a brighter future from this point forward.

It’s time for Congress to act now and prioritize tribal communities to bridge gaps so that our treasured lands can be a place where families and small businesses can thrive for generations to come.