"There are many ironies in the history of relations between the United States and its indigenous peoples, but one in particular may be a telling illustration of the distribution of power.
Flip on a light switch in any of the great cities of the Southwest, such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Phoenix, and much of the time the energy that creates the light will be coming from one of four massive coal-burning electrical plants located on or a few miles from Navajo Nation land in Arizona and New Mexico.
The power plants and the machines and equipment that dig and haul and pulverize the coal that is burned to produce electricity are operated to a large degree by Native Americans. The plants are critically important employers for members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes, about 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Coal sales are reported to make up the bulk of the Hopi Tribe’s funds for governmental operations.
An army of transmission towers marches across the landscape away from the power plants. The vast empty deserts of the Southwest are veined with high-voltage power lines crackling with electricity produced by the Navajo and Hopi. The electricity makes modern life possible for people in the cities.
The irony is that as many as 20,000 Navajo and Hopi families, surrounded on the south, east and west by power plants that deliver electricity to brightly lit cities hundreds of miles away, don’t have access to the electricity grid themselves. They live without it, as people do in remote parts of India, Africa, Haiti and other less-developed lands, including other reservations."
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