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Tulsa World April 22, 2017 United States

Business Viewpoint with Osage Chief Standing Bear: Wind farms cause cultural, economic damage

“You see, for the Osage, our perception of the world is through all five senses of the human body, and this drastic change from nature to machine literally takes away part of our lives.”

Geoffrey M. Standing Bear
Geoffrey M. Standing Bear

By Geoffrey M. Standing Bear

The Osage Nation strongly opposes development of industrial wind farms. I write this column to explain our view from the spiritual perspective of our culture but also from the view of economics, health concerns, quality of life and the impact on natural habitats and wildlife.

For context, industrial wind turbines currently dominate several thousand acres of prairie along Oklahoma 60, 20 miles west of Pawhuska and the Osage Nation. The expansion is slated to continue rapidly with 57,000 acres immediately allocated for wind farms and tens of thousands of acres planned over the next three years.

Let me explain how this impacts the Osage spiritual experience. Over a century ago, our tribe chose to live where the Tallgrass Prairie is today. The land was untouched and inhabited with animals and indigenous plants. My ancestors coexisted with nature as intended, and that harmony was at the forefront of our meaning of life.

Today, the people of the Osage Nation cohabitate the same, but the land has been greatly changed with the addition of many machines. We have lost that harmony that we hold so important. You see, for the Osage, our perception of the world is through all five senses of the human body, and this drastic change from nature to machine literally takes away part of our lives.

Another cultural example is the Osage belief that the horizon is a sacred place where the gates of heaven are open at sunrise and sunset. We don’t have time for a full cultural lesson here, but suffice it to say the horizon is a very important spiritual element for the Osage. You can then imagine that a long string of wind turbines littering the landscape destroys our connection to the horizon and disconnects us from our ancestors.

The economics of wind farms are poor to say the least. These facilities are not financially sustainable without Oklahoma tax credits, which are scheduled to pay out until 2030. Over the next 12 years, those payouts may be as high as $4 billion. With an overall state budget shortfall of $9 billion, we cannot afford to subsidize these wind companies, most of which are not Oklahoma-based and at least one is not even U.S.-based.

Oklahoma’s government is paying attention. Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed a bill that will provide an earlier end to a tax credit for wind farm facilities. I applaud Fallin and the sponsors of HB 2298, House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz for their leadership. I also have supported other legislation this session attempting to accomplish a similar goal.

Now let’s discuss health concerns. Studies show wind farms may cause problems such as dizziness, hearing issues, nausea, stress, heart issues, sleep deprivation, vertigo and other complications. These issues are caused by what is known as infrasound emissions from the machines. Clearly the wind farms are a more than just an inconvenient disturbance and eyesore.

Wind farms also pose a threat to wildlife. Research has shown the wind turbines can affect bald eagles, golden eagles, prairie chickens and other protected species. To the Osage, animals and nature live as one with our people.

This natural order is known as “Wakon.” Wind farms exacerbate the life cycle of animals and nature on our sacred land. This is not “Wakon.”

The Osage Nation will oppose wind farms forever based upon these reasons. We will show our opposition in every way possible, including public statements, advocacy and by legal means if necessary.