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Environmental Studies | Indigenous Studies | Oil, Gas, and Energy | Sociology


Native lands in what is called the United States have vast renewable energy resources. If focused on advancing sovereignty and self-determination, renewable energy development could alleviate harm from ongoing processes of settler colonialism and from the climate crisis, experienced by Native peoples first and worst. However, Native peoples benefit very little from existing renewable energy projects. To increase understanding on how renewable energy can better support Native sovereignty, this paper provides a systematic literature review of 74 articles published between 2003 and 2023 on Native peoples' involvement in wind and solar electricity in the United States. We find that existing literature focuses on support for and barriers to Native involvement, Native leadership, and Native ownership in renewable energy development. Supports include special characteristics of Native nations and the capacity of renewables to alleviate harm. However, social, material, and legal barriers—all rooted in ongoing settler colonialism—obstruct Native involvement in renewables. The final section analyzes these barriers, and scholars' recommendations for addressing them, concluding that 1) a focus on repairing and building relationships of trust, 2) building technical and financial capacity within Native nations alongside valuing existing expertise, and 3) fundamentally overhauling legal and policy structures to support, rather than inhibit, sovereignty and self-determination is critical to Native ownership of and benefit from renewable energy. When these practices are centered, renewable energy can align with Native cultural and environmental values, provide economic resources to advance the development of Native economies and institutions, and support Native leadership in alleviating the climate crisis.

Available for download on Sunday, August 10, 2025