One day wind turbines might add a futuristic element to the Umatilla Reservation. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are currently evaluating wind patterns to establish whether wind power is a worthwhile investment, but they are also considering turbines’ impact on the landscape and culture.
“The knowledge of a place where perhaps somebody fought the bad guys and won is important. It may not have a monument or marker there, but if it’s recorded in the tribal oral histories, it’s important,” says Stuart Harris, director of the tribes’ Department of Science and Engineering.
They’re putting up four anemometers around the reservation to measure wind speed and direction. They’ll use this data to develop a wind power energy policy. According to Harris, if the tribes decide to develop a wind farm, the Board of Trustees will decide whether to partner with a company (which would allow the project to receive energy tax credits) or build the farm themselves.
Board of Trustees Chairman Antone Minthorn says wind power could create opportunities for employment and energy independence.
The tribes have been financially involved with wind power since 2004, when they helped develop the Rattlesnake Road Wind Power Project in Arlington. They sold their equity investment to Texas-based Horizon Wind Energy but continue to have a financial interest in the operation.
Other tribes around Oregon are also investigating wind power. Three tribal groups along the coast — the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians; Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians; and Coquille Indian Tribe — are interested in wind power and have been approached by wind energy companies, but are not yet developing wind power plans. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs conducted a study to determine the potential of wind energy and are discussing the next steps of development.
Being sensitive to tribe members’ personal retreats and the history of the land is also important to Warm Springs tribal members.
“We’ll take into consideration discussions with elders that have knowledge of the area,” says Jim Manion, general manager of Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprises.
Through town meetings the Umatilla tribal government hopes to mitigate disturbances to their members’ relationship to the land.
“Our view of the earth is the earth is our church and there are places where people go to find solace and meditate on the landscape,” says Harris. “If it happens to be on the spot where they put a windmill, I think that would disturb you.”