Chuck Leavell, keyboardist for The Rolling Stones and cofounder of MNN, sits down with the Indigo Girls to chat about their nonprofit, Honor the Earth. The charitable organization raises grant money to help bridge the gap between Indian and non-Indian groups. (Video by Hibbotte)

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Chuck: Well, hello and welcome to In the Green Room. I’m Chuck Leavell for the Mother Nature Network and with me are two wonderful people. Together they comprise one of the greatest singer/songwriter duos of all times. They’re Grammy Award winners. They’re adored and loved everywhere they go all over the planet, not only for the great music, but also for the cultural, social and environmental causes that they have championed for a long, long time. So please welcome Emily Saliers, Amy Ray, Indigo Girls, yeah!
Indigo Girls: Hey, Chuck. How are you doing?
Chuck: Great to be with you guys. I want our viewers to know that I played on an Indigo Girls record. It’s been a while back. It was a great record called Swampophilia. And I was on, what, two or three tracks, I think.
Indigo Girls: Yeah.
Indigo Girls: I can still hear your parts.
Indigo Girls: Yeah.

Indigo Girls: I really can.

Chuck: Okay. So I’m gonna start with a hard-hitting question, why haven’t you called me anymore?

Indigo Girls: Haven’t you been working recently?

Indigo Girls: That’s what happens when you have a keyboard player produce your records.

Chuck: No. But it really was an honor for me to work with you.

Indigo Girls: Oh, it was our honor, too.

Chuck: Yeah. It was a lot of fun. And I do hope we get to do it again.

Indigo Girls: Me, too.

Indigo Girls: Definitely. Definitely.

Chuck: Absolutely. I think you have your 11th record. Is that right? Poseidon – is this?

Indigo Girls: I think that’s what they’re saying. We don’t really count.

Indigo Girls: Maybe 11th studio record or something? We have a few live things.

Chuck: That’s fantastic.

Indigo Girls: Yeah.

Chuck: Poseidon and the Bitter Bug.

Indigo Girls: Yeah.

Indigo Girls: Right.

Indigo Girls: Yeah.

Chuck: I know that you guys have put a lot of heart and soul into something called Honor the Earth.

Indigo Girls: Hmm.

Chuck: Let me know what it’s all about.

Indigo Girls: We were at an Earth Day show and a woman was speaking named Winona LaDuke, and just the way she talked about the native environmental movement really struck both of us, me and Emily. And we talked with her afterwards and just decided at that point to kind of put our sort of heads together and form an organization eventually that would bridge the gap between Indian and non-Indian communities and fund native-run environmental organizations and work to lobby within the system and outside of the system as well for change. Because we felt like the environmental issues we were working on, the most effective approach to us, seemed to be through the native lands because it was a lot of communities that had, were interested in sustainability for reasons that they were getting their food from that, from the environment around them, you know, either through fishing or hunting or agricultural. A lot of land-based communities. That’s what we would call it. And also, a lot of the communities that we saw were sort of bearing the burden of our energy policies through coal mining and uranium mining, hydroelectric dams, fossil fuels, development, generally speaking. And so, we decided to kind of put our weight with the disenfranchised, I guess, in some way, and try to raise money and lobby for support for these groups. It’s been going on since the early ‘90s and we just, we, it’s very, you know, it’s small amounts of money. We raise grant money and other musicians work with us. Bonnie Raitt’s been involved, Jackson Browne, guys from Pearl Jam, you know, just, the Red Hot Chili Peppers sent us a check one time. You know, it’s just like money comes in from different places and there’s a lot of fundraising outside of us ‘cause the idea was that we would sort of start this group with other native activists and then it would kind of take on a life of its own, which it has. You know, we’re involved, but it’s, Honor the Earth is like a big sort of entity that runs itself.

Indigo Girls: It’s shifting the paradigm not just for native communities, but for the entire United States, and to change the energy paradigm. So, when green energy like solar and wind gets on the grid, then it’s good for all Americans. So, the tribes are working very, very hard to institute their own green programs and to provide economies, because the philosophy behind Honor the Earth is that communities don’t have to give up their ecosystems for their economies. So, the idea is to work in conjunction with other green energy companies and the United States government with the Reinvestment Act, the Recovery and Reinvestment act of 2009, has also provided money for tribes to get tax breaks for other energy entities that can come and work with the tribes so they’re sort of like government, U.S. government support for this and support within the tribes. So they’re playing a key role in shifting the U.S. energy paradigm. It’s very, very encouraging.


In the Green Room: Indigo Girls help Native Americans
Video: Chuck interviews the Indigo Girls about their nonprofit, Honor the Earth.