Solar Self-Reliance

In the sunny Southwest, many Hopi and Navajo people have discovered that solar self-reliance strike the right balance between tradition and technology.

| October/November 2004

  • Solar Self-Reliance
    What the Hopi and Navajo have done is common sense for the rest of us as well: Use less, produce what you can on your own, and be cognizant of the implications of each action on others. This is more than a spiritual and cultural decision — it is a necessary economic one as well. Imported fossil fuels are nonrenewable and damaging to the environment.
    Photo courtesy Fotolia/K9Studio

  • Solar Self-Reliance

In the sunny Southwest, many Hopi and Navajo people have discovered that solar panels strike the right balance between tradition and technology.

The Hopi village of Old Oraibi is believed to be the longest continuously inhabited village in the United States. A thousand years of history have shaped the Hopi culture, with its many stone houses, corn, melons and ceremonies. On the 1.5 million acres that make up the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona, 8,000 people live in a dozen villages high atop the mesas. They follow teachings about sustainability, and this covenant with Massaw, the Creator: Live respectfully, acknowledge the Cloud People, hold your ceremonies, grow your corn, and your people will see the arrival of the next world.

It is from this village of Oraibi that the other Hopi villages in Arizona sprang — Bacavi, Moenkopi and Kykotsmovi, to name just three. Here, in the center of Hopi tradition, one also can find evidence of a people looking to the future: In Oraibi, and across the reservation, many homes are now outfitted with solar panels, quietly generating renewable energy.

The Solar Business

The United States’ fast pace and tendency toward sudden, dramatic changes is not always a comfortable fit with the Hopi values of resilience and tenacity, yet it has not been possible for the Hopi to remain completely isolated from the rest of American culture. Ironically, many Hopi live without electricity, even though the reservation is surrounded by coal mines and power plants. The Hopi accept change slowly and deliberately, and most readily when the changes are of their own doing. The Hopi word potskwaniat means “Hopi pathway to the future,” and it is a phrase aptly applied to the work of Native Sun, a Hopi solar power business based in Kykotsmovi.

Native Sun is owned in part by Doran Dalton, a man whose lifestyle spans both past and future. Dalton is the former chair of the nonprofit Hopi Foundation, and now runs Native Sun, a small for-profit business that has employed up to eight people for big installation projects. With the support of a group of committed Hopis and friends, more than 800 household-sized solar units have been installed for Hopi and other Native American people in the region.

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