The U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been working to develop a strong relationship with Indian Tribes over the past few years. Among their many economic efforts, they are now collaborating with other organizations to recruit Native students and professionals. Native Americans, along with other minority groups, represent only a small population in the science and engineering fields. Through outreach, strong recruitment and partnerships with other organizations such as the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AHEC) and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), the DOE hopes to improve the number of Native professionals in these fields.
Through these partnerships, the DOE recently initiated a pilot program called the American Indian Research and Education Initiative (AIREI) to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and education funding to tribal colleges and universities. This year it has funded three tribal colleges: Navajo Technical College, Little Big Horn College and Sinte Gleska University to team up with Arizona State University, Montana State University-Bozeman and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to bring energy projects to tribal lands. DOE National Laboratories will provide technological expertise and mentorship to the students.
There are many possibilities for project development. “Tribal lands in the U.S. are often repositories for coal, oil, uranium and have tremendous untapped energy potential in wind, hydropower and solar resources,” according to the DOE. Participation in these programs may offer Native students an important start to a career in these fields.
“Our goal is to educate Native students and create jobs….recruiting Natives to the department is a high priority in my role,” said Dot Harris, director of the DOE Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.
While recruiting Minorities has been the primary objective of this office for the past few decades, they have recently revved up their efforts to reach out to Native Americans. “Our Nation’s tribal communities are neighbors to the Department’s National Laboratories and sites,” the DOE site states. In addition, “While Indian Land comprises 5 percent of the United States, it contains an estimated ten percent of all U.S. energy resources. …American Indian Communities are uniquely situated in the matrix of energy production and energy use.”
“It is critical to ensure Indian Country has a seat at the table in addressing America’s economic, environmental and energy security challenges,” explains Harris.
The AIREI is only one program the DOE sponsors; in addition, they facilitate K-12 programs, which are offered to younger Native youth. “We have 17 laboratories across the Nation that house government scientists…. We hope to develop a pipeline of students into careers with DOE,” Harris said.