Photo: Joshua Franzos
28th Heinz Awards - 2023
Energy justice leader Nicole Horseherder, Diné, of the Navajo Nation, receives the Heinz Award for the Environment for her work as co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Tó Nizhóní Ání, which translates to “Sacred Water Speaks.” Tó Nizhóní Ání (TNA) strives to protect the aquifers, streams and land of Black Mesa, Arizona; bring power back to Indigenous communities suffering the environmental effects of decades of coal extraction and industry waste; and position the region to transition to and produce renewable energy.
Returning to Black Mesa after college, Ms. Horseherder learned that the aquifer sustaining Indigenous populations in the region was being drained of 3 to 4 million gallons of fresh water per day to transport coal slurry, while also exposing nearby residents to heavy metal-laden coal dust. She went on to co-found TNA, and under her leadership, TNA worked to shut down mine operations, successfully ending industrial use of the aquifer that serves as the region’s only source of drinking water.
In 2019, the Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in the western U.S. and the largest source of nitrogen dioxide pollution in the country, was also closed, in part due to TNA’s ongoing efforts. Today, TNA is focused on the decommissioning and complete cleanup of industrial sites across Indigenous lands in the Black Mesa region. Its approach includes repatriation of artifacts and ancestral remains removed when mining began and financing a just transition to clean energy production and transmission.
Under Ms. Horseherder’s guidance and leadership, TNA initiated an agreement between the Navajo Nation and the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to identify Navajo land for renewable energy development. As of 2022, three large-scale Navajo solar facilities are in place, with another to be completed in 2023.