Native American Students Travel 3,500 Miles to Learn about Energy & Technology

PORTLAND, OR — September 2015  On August 15, students representing tribes from Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho departed from Portland, Oregon to participate in the third annual Inter-tribal Energy & Tech Tour. The Inter-Tribal Energy & Tech Tour is the nation’s first summer camp committed to educating tomorrow’s tribal leadership on energy, technology, and partnership potential.

Students were selected by application process to participate in the 9-day tour of state-of-the-art energy and technology organizations in Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. Three students were recent attendees of the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, hosted by First Lady, Michelle Obama. Another student is a 2015 Gates Millennium Scholar.

The Tour was launched in 2013 by Redbridge, Inc., an 8a Certified, Native American owned marketing services company based in Portland. The mission of Redbridge’s Energy & Tech Tour is to provide an opportunity for tribal youth to learn about state-of-the-art energy and technology projects and generate awareness for developing those resources within tribal communities, where 32.4% of children under 18 live in poverty and the high school graduation rates is 49.3%. When asked about the importance of learning about energy and tech, a 17-year old student said, “If we as native people are able to bring these resources back to our communities, we would open new doors and create more opportunities.”

Energy and Resources

Shasta Caverns: Students enjoyed a field study at the Shasta Caverns and discussed how tribes are currently utilizing hydropower to generate revenue. Students discussed a range of examples from Warm Springs Pelton Round Project that generates 465 MWh to the scarcity of drinking water and environmental concerns facing the Navajo Nation.

Southern California Edison: SCE delivers power to 15 million people in 50,000 square-miles across central, coastal and Southern California. They are also the first utility in the nation to create a Tribal Liaison position dedicated to advancing utility and tribal energy partnerships. Students were able to tour SCE’s Energy Education Center to learn about state of the art resources that are helping consumers make energy decisions that include smarter, cleaner, and more reliable energy. In addition, SCE Tribal Liaison and NCAIED 40-under-40 award recipient, Brian McDonald gave a presentation to the students about how utilities in California are partnering with Tribes to achieve energy goals and better relationships.

Ivanpah: The world’s largest solar project served as a backdrop for students to discuss solar potential for tribes. The Ivanpah Solar Project utilizes 173,500 heliostats in the middle of the Mojave Desert to generate 377 Megawatts of power, which is enough energy to power 140 thousand homes. Recent studies by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimate 14 billion MWh of solar potential exists on tribal lands. Current solar usage by tribes is mainly residential and community scale solar with only a few tribes exploring utility-scale potential. Moapa River Indian Reservation teamed with First Solar and is projected to complete a 250MW project in Nevada which will generate millions of dollars in revenue, and provide up to 400 jobs during the construction phase.

(The world’s largest solar project, Ivanpah, powers thousands of homes in Southern California)

Hoover Dam: At the Hoover Dam, students trekked across the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge that spans the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada and had a brainstorm session about the dam and hydropower potential in native communities. NREL estimates there is 7 million MWh of hydro resources on tribal lands in the US. The dam generates 4.2 billion kWh of power for California residents annually.

GRICUA: A progressive tribal-owned utility in Arizona that provides power to Chandler residents and commercial customers. Students toured the state-of-the-art facility that is currently pursuing LEED Certification. The building incorporates rooftop solar, not for cost savings, but as an exploratory project for the tribe to gain more experience solar energy projects. The students were able to hear first-hand how the utility overcame numerous challenges to create a successful model that provides power and jobs for the Gila River Indian Community.

(Students toured Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority to learn how the tribal-owned utility provides power to the tribal community)

Technology Today

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL): The lab is what many refer to as “the smartest square mile on Earth”. Because much of LLNL’s mission involves national security, entry is strictly regulated. Students and chaperones were required to make special arrangements, including background checks, to gain admittance to the Laboratory. Students toured Additive Manufacturing, Bioengineering, and the world renowned National Ignition Facility (NIF) which is home to the world’s largest and highest energy laser system, a machine that appeared in a Star Trek movie. In addition, minority staff members shared their stories and advice on panel to inform students about how they came from similar backgrounds and through hard work and perseverance have come to work at one of the nation’s most innovative organizations. While on site, students also participated in a hands-on wind power generating exercise to gain insight on design and potential. Wind generation potential on tribal lands is estimated to be about 1,100 million MWh. Read more at

(LLNL Native American panelists: Kimberly Danny, Monica Moya, Darlene Yazzie and Suzanne Singer)

Griffith Observatory: Students were given the opportunity to view Saturn through the Observatory’s 12-in refracting telescope. More people (7.5 million) have looked through the Zeiss telescope than any telescope in human history.

SuperNap: The data center is called the World’s Leading Data Center Ecosystem. It’s the first and only colocation data center in North American to be certified Tier IV in Design and Facility by the Uptime Institute. The facility is unparalleled with 218 patents and patents pending for data center systems, designs, and related industry technologies. And, like LLNL, the award winning data center is maintained by the highest-rated mission critical operations teams and processes, including background checks and armed security escorts. Switch, the operator SuperNap recently joined Obama’s Business Climate Pledge. The company pledges to power its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy by building renewable energy generation facilities in Nevada. The students toured this amazing facility and came away with a new understanding of the data center and information storage world as well as how that can lead to opportunities for Tribes. Currently, broadband penetration rate across the 566 federally recognized tribes is less than 10%, according to a Native Public Media and New America Foundation analysis. Major broadband providers and tech organizations overlook rural tribal lands, making internet and advancements in tech more difficult for Native Americans to access.

For generations, tribes have practiced sustainability and environmental preservation. Today, with over 5% of the nation’s natural resources located on tribal lands, tribes have the opportunity to develop those resources to provide revenue and jobs for their communities, and to not only provide internet access, but explore revolutionary ideas based on their sovereignty privileges. “Energy and technology savvy tribal communities are in a position to bring change to their communities. And it starts with educating tribal youth about the potential. Get them inspired and asking questions and there’s no limit to how far they can take that. The love that these students have for their culture and communities is palpable – they just rode 3500 miles to learn what they can do to create a better future. That’s not easy. I have no doubt they’ll change the world,” said Shannon Hulbert, Tour Founder and President of Redbridge, Inc. “And, witnessing organizations like Schneider ElectricOpus InteractiveInfomart, and more come together to support them and make this Tour happen just speaks volumes for their commitment to youth and the environment. It’s pretty cool!”

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