Jun 14
June 14, 2013

Unleashing the Powers of the Wind and The Great Sioux Nation


This op-ed was written by U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota and coauthored by Bryan Brewer, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe; Thurman Cournoyer, chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe; Kevin Keckler, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; Brandon Sazue, chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe; Cyril Scott, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe; and Robert Shepherd, chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.

For the past two years, I have had the honor of working with the Sioux Tribes of South Dakota, and several dedicated consultants that have been donating their time, to develop the Tribes' wind energy resources. We have now made sufficient progress to go public – this week, at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative America meeting, President Clinton helped us announce that six Sioux Tribes are banding together to develop the largest wind power production facility in the United States. This has exciting implications for the sustainability of the environment and for the self-sufficiency of the one of the country's most resilient but underserved communities.

Watch a video about the Sioux Wind Project

The Midwest has been called “the Saudi Arabia of wind power,” and the northern Great Plains has enough wind resources to meet the entire energy demand of the United States several times over. Six South Dakota Sioux Tribes – the Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Oglala, Rosebud, Sisseton Wahpeton, and Yankton Tribes – have decided to pool their considerable wind power resources to create the largest utility-grade wind installation in the country – a Project funded by $1.75-3 Billion in bonds issued through a multi-Tribal power authority.

This Project completely changes the model for developing wind power in the U.S. Previously, large wind projects were funded by private equity – this means that it is expensive money (equity investors require double-digit returns), and it means that the project is owned by the investors. But our Project will use bond financing – bond rates are at historic lows, and are the most cost-effective type of funding currently available. More importantly, because the multi-Tribal power authority will be issuing the bonds, backed by the quality of the Tribes' wind power assets and the expertise of world-class operators, the Tribes will own the Project and will realize the full benefit of the sales of power to customers beyond their communities.

This will be a “first” in many respects: the first use of public power bonds in a project of this type; the first time multiple Tribes have cooperated in an economic development project of this size and scope; the first new joint municipal power authority formed in the U.S. in decades. And it will be a market driven initiative – start-up costs will be funded by private grants and investments, and the Project development costs will be fully funded by Power Authority bonds. The Project will not rely on federal tax credits. It is our hope that this Project may become a model for the development of wind power and other forms of renewable energy across the U.S., both on and off Native Lands.

The Northern Great Plains is the traditional home of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Oyate (People) – three linguistically different groups that share a common culture and heritage. We have always survived in the Great Plains by relying on the natural resources given to us by Tunkaṡina (Grandfather or the Creator) through our Unci Tunkaṡina (Grandmother Earth). These resources include Taté (the wind) – our lands contain the strongest and most reliable wind resources in the United States – and Mni (water) – our group contains several “river tribes” whose reservations are located on the Missouri River and house dams that have provided power to the upper Midwest for decades.

All of our Tribes suffer from an unacceptable level of poverty and joblessness, and so economic development is a central concern. The development of utility-scale wind power, supplemented with hydropower, will enable us to provide for the well being of our people by generating sustainable economic and community development, jobs and training opportunities in a way that is consistent with our cherished beliefs, traditional ways of life, and rich cultural traditions.

Moreover, developing our renewable energy resources will make a significant contribution in addressing the global crisis in climate change. Together, our Tribes cover 16% of the total land area of South Dakota, and have the capacity to develop as much as 58 Gigawatts of power while producing zero emissions. By producing at least 1-2 Gigawatts, our Project will more than double the installed wind-power capacity in South Dakota (currently only 784 megawatts) and add 2-3% to the total amount of wind-power generated in the United States. We are honored to have this opportunity to pursue our sacred trust as responsible stewards of the earth, not only on the Mother Land of our tribes, but also as members of the global community.

This Project will also be significant on another level: In recent decades, our Tribes have had few opportunities to work together to achieve common purposes. But our multi-Tribal wind Project will be one of the most significant economic development initiatives in the history of South Dakota, and will result in spin-off development in road building, trucking, hotels and restaurants, telecommunications and other industries, benefiting both the Tribes and neighboring communities. This will dramatically increase the power of the Tribes to control their own destinies.

Currently, electricity costs are a greater burden for residents of Tribal lands, and individual Tribes have been attempting to increase the amount of their hydropower allocations from the power generated by the dams on their reservations.

By combining our resources into a Project of this size and scope, the Tribes together will be in a better position to pursue Tribal priorities with key governmental and private partners, such as the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), the Army Corps of Engineers, and the local power cooperatives and utilities, whose policies and practices directly affect wholesale and retail power prices and water usage rights on the reservations.

In joining together to build the largest wind-power installation in the U.S. and the largest economic development project in South Dakota, the Tribes will finally achieve a level of self-determination, self-development and self-reliance that, acting alone, they have not had in the past. This type of inter-Tribal cooperation has deep roots in the history of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Oyate – the historic alliance of these bands is called the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, or “The Seven Council Fires.” It is also known as the Great Sioux Nation.

Follow the progress of the project here.

About the Authors

Senator Byron Dorgan served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years and the House of Representatives for 12, where he represented the State of North Dakota, and focused extensively on energy and Native American issues. Currently he is co-chair of the government relations practice at the Washington, D.C. office of Arent Fox LLP. He is also a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where he co-chairs its energy project.

Bryan V. Brewer is an enrolled member and the current president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Prior to his election in 2012, Brewer spent 26 years as a Lakota Culture teacher at Pine Ridge High School. During his years at Pine Ridge High School, he served in many capacities including teacher, coach, principal, athletic director, and dean of students. Currently, and for the past 30 years, Brewer has been the director of the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI). He was the original founder of the LNI and has been the driving force in overseeing the growth of this huge event. Brewer is a Vietnam veteran, having served two tours of duty there as a member of the United States Navy. He is a traditional dancer, a sun dancer, and craftsman. He attended Black Hills State University and graduated with a degree in secondary education.

Thurman Cournoyer Sr. is an enrolled member and the current chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Cournoyer spent much of his childhood attending school in Marty, South Dakota, and after serving in the United States Navy, he returned to South Dakota where he has remained for over fifty years. Since 1982, he has lived on the Yankton Indian Reservation with his wife and worked as an electrician. In 2011, Cournoyer was elected chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, where he has labored to promote and encourage economic development on the Yankton Indian Reservation. As chairman, he hopes to unify tribal members and improve living conditions for the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Accordingly, Cournoyer’s primary concern is protecting and advancing the health and general welfare of the Tribe.

Kevin Keckler serves as the tribal chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He has served his people as an elected leader since 2002, when he was chosen to serve as the District 4 Tribal Council Representative. Keckler served in the position for ten years until being elected at-large as chairman in December 2010. During his time with the Tribal Council he has served as chair of numerous council committees, from land to judiciary and economic development to natural resources, just to name a few. Prior to public service, the chairman attended Northern University in Aberdeen, South Dakota and owned an architectural planning firm from 1992-2002, which served over 30 tribes with planning and architectural efforts.

Brandon Sazue Sr. was elected Chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in 2012. He was previously elected to a two-year term as chairman in 2008.

Cyril L. Scott is president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. He was born in 1962 to proud Lakota Sioux (Sicangu) parents. Scott grew up entirely on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, graduating from Todd County High School in 1980. He then went into the private sector, traveling the country in various positions until filling a need to return home, to be near his family. Upon returning home, Scott was elected to a seat on the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council in 2005, where he served for two years representing the Antelope District. Scott returned to public service in 2012 when he was elected president. Tribal duty and service is a historic family passion for Scott and his Tiospaye (Family Clan/Unit). Mona Herman Scott, the mother of Cyril L. Scott, dutifully served as community field representative for the tribal Social Services Department, and organized various community and tribal events that helped to develop the tribal private sector. A proud woman, Mona Herman Scott instilled within Cyril L. Scott the virtue to serve his people, as evident in his new role as president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Robert Shepherd is currently serving his second two-year term as chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. Prior to elected office, he served as Petty Officer 2nd Class in the United States Navy from 1996 — 2004.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative in recognition of CGI's third meeting of CGI America (June 13-14, 2013 in Chicago). CGI America convenes business, government, and civil society leaders each year to make commitments promoting domestic economic recovery and the long-term competitiveness of the United States.