Notes from the Field: Providing Lakota Families with the Gift of Heat

by Rachel Blomberg, TWP Donor

Rachel Blomberg is a Cornell University student who raised over $2,000 for Trees, Water & People to install solar heaters on the homes of Lakota families living on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Last month, she flew to the reservation to help install the solar heaters. She details her experience below:

“My project could not have unfolded more perfectly.  As soon as I stepped off the plane in Rapid City, South Dakota, Darrell Red Cloud and another volunteer, Rachael Maddox, were there to pick me up and drive me out to Lakota Solar Enterprises on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  On the way, we stopped at the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Home Improvement Program (HIP) office to speak with the inspector administration assistant, Clarence Yellow Hawk Sr., who chose the homes for this installation.

Upon booking my flights to return to Pine Ridge, I was unsure if we would be able to accomplish more than one installation.  However, once I got to the home of Henry Red Cloud at Lakota Solar Enterprises, I became aware that we would be doing not just one, but three solar panel installations that week. This was possible because of the generosity of donors to Trees, Water & People’s Global Giving and carbon offset fundraisers.

The very next day after I arrived, Henry Red Cloud, me, and six other crew members associated with this solar air heater installation project loaded up the Solar Warrior Wagon with all our supplies and drove to the home of Gillard Good Voice Flute, who lives with three other elderly men.  Gillard and his family, or “tiospaye”, are one of the lucky ones to receive a new HIP home from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, one of only about 10-14 homes built per year for families in need of housing.  This made his home ideal for a solar air heater installation, as these homes are moderately insulated and powered by electricity, not propane.

While Henry instructed everyone on how to properly install the heating system, we all worked together to get the solar panel in place, the duct work run below the floors of the home, the air vents positioned in the floors, and the thermostat installed in the inside of the home.  After a full day of work, we accomplished our goal of giving the gift of heat.  However, we like to tell the home owners, “You just got solared!” instead.

After working on the home of Gillard, the next day we accomplished another installation at the home of Wanda and Darrell Walking, and the following day we installed one more at the home of Mike Merrival.  All three of these solar air heaters will heat homes for families with elderly and children, and will help a family’s heating and electricity bill decline by 30% a month.  As long as the sun is shining, as it does for 300 days a year out at Pine Ridge, these families will have free heat running through their homes, even when the temperatures drop below -40 degrees Fahrenheit.  These solar air heating systems not only provide some relief for families living at life-or-death poverty rates, they also reduce negative environmental impacts caused by heating a home with electricity or propane while helping this nation’s Native peoples become energy independent.

One of the most important things that happened this week was spreading the word about my project to others.  The first day I was there, a separate group from Massachusetts was helping build straw bale homes at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.  When they heard about what I had accomplished with my project, they decided that they would also try to complete the same goals and bring more solar air heaters to Pine Ridge.”

Thank you to Rachel for all her hard work and dedication to the Lakota people! You can have the same impact that Rachel did by donating to this project, directly supporting Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program.

 

 

 

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Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

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