An Uneasy Conundrum: Green Energy & Tribes

Picture of Lisa J. Watt

Lisa J. Watt

Director of the Indigenous Leadership Program

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Goldendale Water Pump Storage Project. Photo credit: Washington State Department of Ecology

View the recording and see resources from our conversation with Jeremy Takala (Yakama), Maia Bellon (Mescalero Apache), and Lauren Goldberg from Columbia Riverkeeper on Yakama Nation’s opposition to the proposed Goldendale Water Pump Storage Project.


Thursday, April 20, 2023

American Indian Tribes have embraced the need for alternative energies to diminish dependence on fossil fuels and combat climate change, but green energy can come at a high cost for Indigenous communities. Designed for seemingly under-developed or isolated rural areas by industry, green energy projects are sometimes planned for lands that hold irreplaceable cultural resources or sacred sites, or are in “usual and accustomed places” as identified in treaties.

The proposed $2 billion Goldendale Water Pump Storage Project planned for South Central Washington near the Yakama Reservation is one such project. What is the project, and why is the Yakama Nation opposed to it? What are the legal and moral obligations of state and federal governments to consult appropriately with tribes? What does successful and respectful consultation look like? And how can NGOs be effective partners when tribes are faced with cultural and environmental threats on their landscapes?

The work that the Yakama Nation and other tribes and partners are doing is for the benefit of future generations, not only for our membership but for our neighbors in the region.

We’ve been getting a lot of attention with this administration for Columbia River salmon restoration and we’ve also been supporting [green] energy projects or energy replacement. But let’s do it in a manner that respects tribal sovereignty. Let’s do it in a manner that protects traditional cultural properties.

— Jeremy Takala

Watch a recording of An Uneasy Conundrum: Green Energy & Tribes held on Thursday,  April 20. Download the transcript here.

Recommended resources


Washington State Department of Ecology

Making a difference

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Portland, OR; Seattle and Olympia, WA

Seattle, WA

About the speakers

Portrait of a smiling man with black hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing blue glasses and a red vest with a green pattern.
Jeremy Takala (Yakama) Tribal Council, Yakama Nation Known as Pax’una’shut, of the Kahmiltpah Band (Rock Creek) of the Columbia River, Jeremy Takala is a fisheries technician by training and serves as an elected member of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council. In addition to serving as a commissioner representing the Nation on the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), Mr. Takala serves his community as the chair or member of several internal committees: fish & wildlife; law & order; health, employment & welfare; and legislative.

Maia Bellon
(Mescalero Apache)
Partner, Cascadia Law Group Environmental Attorneys

From 2013 to 2020, Maia Bellon served as the director of the Washington State Department of Ecology and was the first Native American to serve as a member of the Washington state cabinet. As director of the Department of Ecology, she managed a staff of 1,700 people and oversaw a biennial budget of $2.3 billion. Currently, she is a partner at Cascadia Law Group where she represents tribal governments and municipal and private clients on a wide array of complex environmental matters, including climate and energy policy, air quality, water resources, toxics cleanup, water quality, and tribal law.

Portrait of a smiling woman with dark, curly, shoulder-length hair wearing hoop earrings and a sage green top

Lauren Goldberg
Executive Director, Columbia Riverkeeper

Lauren Goldberg joined Columbia Riverkeeper in 2008 and spent more than a decade working with staff to enforce the Clean Water Act and developing legal strategies to fight the oil, coal, and fracked gas industries. Named as Riverkeeper’s new executive director in May 2022, Ms. Goldberg and her staff continue to work with diverse coalitions to fight for laws that protect people from toxic pollution and defend the landscapes we love.




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