San Diego County is home to the densest concentration of Native American reservations of any county in America. Nearly 20 tribes call our region home, and their land holdings cover 193 square miles, accounting for five percent of the county’s size.
To build strong partnerships with our tribal communities and help meet their needs for clean, safe and reliable energy, we have established a dedicated tribal liaison position.
Senior Regional Public Affairs Manager Jennifer Summers, who became the tribal liaison last November, has made it her goal to visit every one of the 18 federally-recognized reservations in our county. Her overarching goal is to achieve a greater understanding of all things tribal through listening, learning, and interaction. She's a woman on a mission.
To date, she has visited all 16 tribes that have land or energy infrastructure. On any given day, she is meeting with tribal governments to address their concerns or answer questions they may have about our projects, programs and services.
"With the creation of the tribal liaison role," Summers explains, "we can ensure our Native American communities get the attention they need and deserve.”
Motivated to Help People
Summers comes to her position with training as a lawyer specializing in estate planning and consumer class action litigation. She sees similarity in her current role and her previous career as a lawyer. She believes the tribal liaison role takes her back to why she initially pursued a career in law – to help people.
She brings to her position a great deal of sensitivity about Native American culture.
“Updating infrastructure and contemplating the relocation or placement of any object on tribal grounds requires more than engineering skills, strategic excellence, or obvious need. There are sacred grounds to be considered and trust to be earned,” she said.
Summers provides guidance to tribal communities on how to save energy and money through programs offered by SDG&E. For example, Medical Baseline and CARE (bill discount programs), Time-of-Use pricing plans, and rebates for purchasing energy-efficient products.
Summers also assists tribal communities with climate adaptation by sharing information about advanced technology solutions such as microgrids and energy storage, as well as efforts that can help reduce carbon emissions – such as electric vehicles and integration of renewable energy.
Wildfire safety is another area where Summers works hard to build partnership. As with most Californians, fire preparedness among tribal communities is a higher priority than ever before. All Native American reservations within our service area are in high fire-threat areas. Due to their location, reservations tend to be impacted more than other areas by Public Safety Power Shutoffs, which are implemented as a last resort to prevent wildfires from starting during extreme weather conditions. In some instances, SDG&E provides grants to tribes to help them with furthering wildfire mitigation and resiliency.
"The position of Tribal Liaison and all it entails is highly rewarding," Summers says. "The better our relationship, the better we can align needs with resources,” said Summers. “SDG&E provides so much more to our communities than energy, and it was not clear to me that our tribal communities knew this. My offer of support is genuine, and I tell them, I am a resource. Use me."