Solar power and Native American rights clash in the Mojave Desert
In a remote corner of the Mojave Desert, 15 miles from Las Vegas, stands the expansive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Occupying 5 square miles, the facility seems to swallow up a stunning expanse of desert including animals, plants and now, spiritual and cultural resources.
Native elders filed a suit against the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Energy in 2010, for failure to properly consult with the tribes in regard to the development of six renewable projects.
Litigants Alfredo Figueroa (Yaqui/Chemehuevi), Phillip Smith (Chemehuevi), and Reverend Ron Van Fleet (Mojave) complain that the government and the companies involved have lent a deaf ear to their concerns, which has brought a new level of anxiety and spiritual pain to people who have long felt their voices muffled in the face of commercial development by others.
Mojave elder Reverend Ron Van Fleet said the rituals he has performed at a sacred site within Ivanpah’s enclosure cannot be meaningfully replicated, in accordance with his tradition and values, at any other location.
The fence around Ivanpah has become a testimony to the extent Native American spiritual beliefs are under attack by the siting of utility scale solar plants in the desert.
On April 10, California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard an appeal. The immediate question was access; the underlying issue is freedom of religion.
Image credit: “Who Are My People?” Documentary Film ©2015 Robert Lundahl & Assoc.
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