The wind whips through the passes of the Rocky Mountains, blowing endlessly across the Blackfeet reservation in northern Montana. The land rises from the austere prairie to the towering mountain range, today comprising much of Glacier National Park, which is within the treaty area of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Borders, land ownership, neighbors and government policies may change, but one thing is certain: The wind will blow through the passes and through Blackfeet territory.
Harnessing that wind energy hopefully will put the Blackfeet squarely into the alternative energy market. A pilot wind project developed by the Siyeh Development Corporation powers Browning municipal facilities at the heart of the reservation. By the fall of next year, the Blackfeet expect to produce enough power to supply 6,000 homes. "The wind project of Siyeh represents a project which is in keeping with Blackfeet culture, and it is a resource which will provide for future generations of Blackfeet," explains Dennis Fitzpatrick, the Blackfeet tribal member who heads the project.
By 2002, wind power on the Blackfeet reservation in northern Montana could be producing enough energy to supply 6,000 homes.
This past fall, SeaWest WindPower, a San Diego-based company, partnered with Siyeh to build a new wind installation. The project, consisting of 15 wind turbines, is slated to begin construction in August 2002. The turbines will provide 30 construction jobs, four or five permanent jobs in the Browning area and, once the project is producing energy (perhaps as early as next year), an estimated $250,000 per year to the tribal government.
The Blackfeet reservation is considered to have some of the greatest wind energy potential in the country. The Great Plains has enough generating power to meet a third of present U.S. electrical needs. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Montana alone has enough wind potential to produce 116,000 megawatts of electricity, and North Dakota has enough to supply 36 percent of the electricity needs of the lower 48 states.
Wind energy is now the fastest-growing renewable energy source. At the current rate of installation, the World Energy Council estimates that wind power could provide energy for 60 to 158 million people globally.
In keeping with Blackfeet and other Native traditions, wind energy is also a sustainable resource. "Generating electricity from the winds here on the reservation has been talked about for many years," says Tribal Chairman Earl Old Person. "We are gratified that it has finally become a reality."