Since the 1970s, members of the Prairie Island Indian Community of Minnesota have lived in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. And nuclear waste is stored next to the reservation.

“Obviously our tribal members are nervous to be living next door to all of this,” says Tribal Council Vice President Shelley Buck. “We don’t even get our power from Xcel Energy, which owns and operates the Prairie Island nuclear generating plant.”

She says that in exchange for storing nuclear waste on the island, Xcel Energy pays into a state fund.

A few years ago, tribal leaders successfully pitched legislators on an idea: using that fund for projects that help the reservation reach net-zero carbon emissions.

Over a three-year period, the tribe plans to install solar, make energy efficiency upgrades, and convert buildings to run entirely on electricity.

“Our history and our energy story has been negatively linked to the nuclear power plant and nuclear waste storage site,” Buck says. “We want to change that narrative and use that energy production as a positive force — not only for our tribe today, but for the next seven generations, as our Dakota ways teach us.”

Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media