Training a new green workforce in Bodaway-Gap
BODAWAY-GAP, Ariz. — Purpose Focused Alternative Learning Co., a non-profit, is hoping to empower the Native community by creating a clean energy workforce in and around Bodaway-Gap, which also would address systemic economic injustices like the lack of running water and electricity in large portions of the community.
An education and outreach event is taking place May 7 from 2-5 p.m. at Hidden Springs Church, where community members can meet partners of Purpose Focused to learn about what kinds of training there are and also how those trained can help the community by installing solar furnace heating systems.
With help from partners including Red Cloud Renewables, a nonprofit from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, whose mission is to organize renewable energy, sustainable living projects and provide educational training for Native Americans across the country, Purpose Focused hopes to and has already trained workers using the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners training for solar energy professionals.
Red Cloud Renewables sponsored two Navajo to participate in the Train the Trainer T4 program.
JoAnn Armenta, CEO of Purpose Focus, said the training program is about empowering youth or anyone interested, in the knowledge of clean energy and then applying it in their own communities — and the moment is a good one because there is money to fund it.
The money and support from partners come from long, established relationships from another organization, Forgotten People, that Don Yellowman has been a part of for years while he worked to address the inequities of the Bennett Freeze.
Now, those partnerships are coming to fruition in another endeavor, one that Yelllowman hopes will have a lasting impact and one that is personal for him because he grew up in Bodaway-Gap.
“I think what it comes down to is we have to empower our people,” he said. “We have to start training them with the needed information, the necessary skills. We have to take matters into our own hands and take care of ourselves and our people. Education is a good thing.”
Yellowman, who is president of Purpose Focus, pointed out that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it uncovered the inequities that have existed on many reservations since their inception, like the lack of running water. Yellowman said in trying to pay attention to springs in communities, they are finding out that they will run off a solar panel system.
“So there’s going to be a need for people in the community to understand how these systems work,” he said.
But in addition to the training, there is then an opportunity for them to start their own small businesses. Yellowman said the closing of Navajo Generating Station signaled an end of an era.
“Whether we were prepared for it or not, the chapter of the book is closing,” he said. “Now, we need to look forward. Things in the renewable field, things are moving in that direction. We need to start getting prepared. If we train our people, our local community, they’ll have a leg up to get in on the start of some of those projects.”
Yellowman said training like this also addresses some of the issues of the Navajo people leaving the reservation to get an education and then coming back to find there are not really any opportunities for them.
“I think this is a good opportunity to have the younger, educated students that are eager and want to return home to give their skills and apply their education,” he said.
Yellowman said that he knows there are still people, mainly older, in the community who are still saddened by the NGS closing, but he believes this is a good opportunity for everyone, especially the youth.
“Younger people nowadays are talking about sustainability and getting off the grid and organic food and growing their own,” he said. “With agricultural opportunities here with solar technology, we can pump the water. Easily. We don’t need the Nation to do a lot of this stuff.”
Yellowman emphasized that their partners can help with the knowledge, technology and ways to implement the projects in ways that the political parts of how chapters and the Navajo Nation can’t.
“We need to understand that educating our young people and keeping up with technology and how things are changing [is important],” he said. “It’s exciting. I think being on the Rez, we’re always the last to understand new technology that comes our way.”
Yellowman emphasized that this is an opportunity for younger generations.
“Young people who are business minded and eager and determined, this could be a business opportunity for some young woman or young man who wants to put electric stations along Highway 89,” he said. “Or there are tours that come through and we can charge their vehicles. We just have to capitalize on it.”