The pandemic—and more recently, the Texas power crisis—have brought attention to infrastructure challenges that have long plagued American Indian tribes and their citizens. Over the past 150 years, the Navajo Nation has been a site of resource extraction, but has not received the infrastructure necessary to use those resources to the benefit of the Navajo people. To this day, many Navajo citizens live without electricity.

The Navajo Nation possesses the necessary expertise and experience to electrify all homes on its reservation, but it needs help to do so. Created in 1959, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) is a tribally owned non-profit. The average cost for NTUA to connect a home to an existing electric distribution line is $40,000. While other homes across the U.S. gained electricity in the early 1930s, the first large scale effort to do so on Navajo Nation was not until 1980 when NTUA received financial assistance to do so, through its first loan from the USDA Rural Utility Service. While loans are certainly better than no funding at all, treaty and trust responsibilities create a federal obligation to support electrification in Indian country by providing grant funding. The federal government established the Navajo reservation as a “permanent homeland” for the Navajo people. Electricity is essential to modern life and a standard of living off-reservation. In the 21st century, electricity is a necessary condition for any lands to be a permanent homeland.

Understanding why Navajo Nation does not possess adequate electricity requires an understanding of the history of energy development on the Nation. Mining of coal and uranium on the Nation was initially pushed by the United States under the guise of “modernization.” The federal government believed that the Nation needed to transition to a capitalist, industrial economy through resource development. The Nation possessed a highly valuable collection of fossil fuels. Several private sector coal companies sought to mine coal on lands shared by the Navajo and Hopi, while at the same time, the U.S. federal government coveted the Nation’s rich stores of uranium.

Read the full article about electrifying Navajo Nation by Heather Tanana and Warigia Bowman at Brookings.