Volunteer Voices: Standing with Standing Rock

by Sally MacAdams, TWP Volunteer

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It was kind of by chance that I got inspired about the many benefits of renewable energy projects in Native American communities back in mid-2015. I was listening to a podcast about the social, environmental and economic issues associated with oil and mining projects on reservations and the hope offered by green alternatives. From my home in Melbourne, Australia, it might have seemed like something very distant from me – except that I had recently gotten interested in Community Owned Renewable Energy (CORE) and coincidentally, my father and his wife had just moved to Colorado, and I was already planning a trip to visit in 2016.

I quickly became a little obsessed with researching CORE projects in North America, particularly in First Nations, and I teamed up with a local Australian organization called Community Power Agency so that I could channel this obsession into something useful. As a community sustainability professional, I was also hoping to be able to contribute to something during my trip to the US, so I started to look around at not-for-profit organizations in Colorado and came across Trees, Water and People (TWP).

I connected with TWP’s Development Director Gemara Gifford, and after a Skype conversation, I was excited at the possibilities of contributing to TWP’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program. And I was especially excited to learn about TWP’s partnership with Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE). I had been moved to tears by a quote from Henry in This Changes Everything about how there are times when incremental change is okay, and then there are times “when you need to run like a buffalo.”

Fast forward to August 2016, and I arrived in Fort Collins and felt immediately welcome at TWP. My work focussed mostly on seeking funding for green building projects, solar furnaces and other sustainable development partnerships between TWP and LSE.
Towards the end of my time in Colorado, I was lucky enough to travel with TWP’s Executive Director Richard Fox up to meet Henry and to visit the epicenter of many of these projects: Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

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The welcome sign at RCREC from my trip with Richard Fox to meet Henry Red Cloud.

Coming full circle to what had first sparked my interest in tribal energy, right at the end of my placement at TWP, a partnership project was forming to support the water protectors at Cannonball, North Dakota. The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline had been growing more and more intense during my stay in the US. The historic gathering at Standing Rock of so many tribes from across the Americas, and of allies from around the world, epitomizes the fight of indigenous communities across the globe to have their sovereignty respected and to protect their water, land and sacred sites from companies, institutions and governments who consistently disregard these rights.

Denver NoDALP Event
People across the country are showing solidarity with those at Standing Rock, like this event in Denver.

To support not only the Sacred Stone and Oceti Sakowin Camps, but also the permanent community at Standing Rock as they face the coming winter, Lakota Solar Enterprises and TWP have come together with a range of partners, including Honor the Earth, Standing Rock Tribal Council, local (Colorado) organiser-fundraiser Samantha Reynolds and Namaste Solar, to provide solar heaters, straw bale shelters, and solar systems to power local radio. You can contribute to these projects here.

Seeing this come together felt like a very fitting end to my time with TWP and I’m looking forward to continuing to follow TWP’s and LSE’s collaborations across the country.

If you would like to help TWP support those standing up against the Dakota Access Pipeline, please donate today. Thank you for your kindness! 

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Thank You from the Shields/Peltier Family

We, the Shields/Peltier Family, would like to say a big thank you to all the helping hands who built such a wonderful, blessed house for our children. We are all so very thankful and blessed to call this a home of our own. Before moving into our CEB home, we didn’t have a working shower in the trailer we were renting. The children would sometimes go a few days without showering. Since there was no running water, we had to use a garden hose and fix it up to the kitchen sink and use it to flush the toilet bowl. I sometimes had to hand-wash our clothing because we didn’t have a washer or dryer.

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The Shields/Peltier Family at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new CEB home with Henry Red Cloud (left).

In the trailer, the walls were full of holes and the floor was caving in. It had a lot of rodents, bedbugs, and mice throughout the house. All the windows were covered with plastic due to them being broken out. We had problems with the outlets, only a few of them were working. We would have to unplug some things to be able to plug in heaters to warm the trailer. We all slept in one room just to keep warm, which was the living room.

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The Shields/Peltier’s new CEB home features solar electric panels and a solar heater.
Now our children have a room of their own and can take showers when they want. The children now have clean clothes and can get a good night’s sleep; they don’t have to worry about bedbugs and getting bitten up throughout the night, or worry about mice getting into our food. We don’t have to put up with all that anymore! We are all very thankful to Trees, Water & People, Henry Red Cloud and all those who helped with this home we can call ours, here on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

With blessings & a big thank you,

The Shields/Peltier Family

Notes from the Field: Summer Update from Tribal Lands

Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE) and Trees, Water & People (TWP) are continuing our efforts to help Native American communities move towards energy independence. This week we are conducting a solar air heater workshop and installing ten solar air heating systems for the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe in northeast South Dakota. The training is teaching twelve tribal members about the uses of solar energy and how to install the energy saving solar heating systems. These solar heaters push the number of total systems the LSE/TWP team has built and installed for tribal families to more than 1,000 systems. Additionally, the vast majority of these systems made at the LSE manufacturing facility at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe members installing a solar air heater during a training with Lakota Solar Enterprises and Trees, Water & People.

 

It is also the first major installation of our new Off-Grid Solar Heaters, which now operate solely on solar power! Heat is provided even if the grid goes off, as it is apt to do all across Native American Reservations. After this training is completed, the tribe has discussed getting 21 more systems and will use their trained workforce to get them installed.

Next, LSE will be taking down the old defunct wind turbine tower at the Kili Radio Station on Pine Ridge. Friends will install a new 10 kW Bergey wind turbine there in September, and a bit later Henry and the LSE crew will install another 6 kW solar electric array. A few years ago LSE installed a 5 kW solar electric array there, as well as one of their solar air heaters. Together, this should reduce the Radio stationed huge electric and heating bills by more than half.

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Henry Red Cloud (left) leads a solar panel installation training at the Kili Radio Station in 2013.

Training and demonstrations like these are possible because of you, our supporters! Your contribution helps build job skills for Native Americans while also reducing CO2 emissions. Please donate today to keep programs like these going into the future.

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TWP Celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Today marks an important date on the calendar for indigenous communities around the world as the United Nations declares the International Day of the World´s Indigenous Peoples. This year, the Indigenous Peoples Day highlights the importance of education for indigenous communities worldwide.

For the international and national partners of Trees, Water & People (TWP) as well as the home office employees, every day is indigenous people´s day. Our tribal program in the US continues to break new ground on housing opportunities on the Pine Ridge Reservation, expand access to sustainable agriculture and improve food security, and work to reforest hillsides that have been decimated by fires and erosion. Our partnership with Henry Red Cloud has led to many educational opportunities for Native Americans over the years, such as business development courses, green job training, and sustainable building.

Solar Women Warrior Scholarship winners
These two young Native American women were the recipients of our Solar Women Warrior Scholarship and learned how to install solar air heaters. Here they are working on fans for a heater.

Internationally, with our partner Utz Ché in Guatemala, we are also working to provide education opportunities, training, and capacity building for indigenous communities. In our primary community of La Bendición, where we led two work tours last year, we continue to support training in beekeeping (two youth leaders attended an apiculture and permaculture workshop at the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute in San Lucas de Toliman).

La Bendición was founded in 2000 by two different indigenous communities that were displaced by the armed conflict in the 1990s in western Guatemala. They were relocated to an abandoned and defunct coffee plantation in the southeastern part of the country and were passed a bill for the value of the land, as assessed by the government. The discrepancy between the valuation of the land and what they received has characterized the next 16 years of their community’s existence. They have fought for dismissal of this over-inflated debt so they could get on with learning how to live separated from their ancestral land and people.

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Osvin Goméz of La Bendición fits a wax mold into a frame for the beehive to build a new honeycomb.

According to Oswaldo Mauricio, our primary coordinator with La Bendición and the director of Campesino exchanges for Utz Ché:

“The relationship between TWP, Utz Ché, and La Bendición contributes to an enhanced quality of life in many different ways. Together we improve the overall reforestation and conservation of the forests, protect the watersheds and the rivers, moderate the use of firewood and pressures on the forest, and help smallholder farmers diversify their parcels (productivity projects). All these activities are the primary focal point for the creation of better educational opportunities, both informal and formal. All of these developments help to ensure clean and healthy food production and consumption for the families of La Bendición.”

In addition to these efforts, our ongoing goal to build 500 clean cookstoves, in collaboration with Utz Ché and two Guatemalan improved cookstove producers, EcoComal and Doña Dora, is helping to train and educate other Utz Ché communities on the use and maintenance of the clean cookstoves. Your donation will allow indigenous communities in southern Guatemala to have access to these clean cookstoves, as well as the training they need to use and maintain them.

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Making a House a Home for a Lakota Family

by Adelle McDaniel, National Intern

Traveling up to Pine Ridge Reservation for the very first time, I had a lot of questions. Statistics about poverty, living conditions, and health tumbled around my head; I could (and did) rattle them off to anyone who asked where I was going for the weekend. But at that point, I didn’t really know where I was going for the weekend. I didn’t even really know what I was doing when I got there.

When Richard, Trees, Water & People’s Executive Director, pulled up next to a newly built, sustainable Compressed Earth Block (CEB)  house on the reservation and I hopped out, the latter question was quickly answered. I would be helping to clean, organize, and prepare the building for the open house the following day. More importantly, I would be part of giving the gift of a home. The three bedroom earthen block home features solar-heated floors and forced air, a PV system on the roof, and one happy family inside.

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Community members blessing the new home in a drum circle.

Very little is more rewarding than making others happy. Knowing that you created a safe, beautiful place for a family to spend their years, though, far surpasses that. Everyone at the open house could see the proof of that joy on the faces of the two most influential people on the project, Richard Fox and Henry Red Cloud, and we could feel it in their hearts.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Paul Shields, the recipient of the new CEB home. Paul worked tirelessly on the construction of the compressed earth block home and volunteered on many community-based projects on Pine Ridge. Paul’s efforts are not only for his children, but also to share the beauty of Lakota culture with his grandchildren. Though jobs on the reservation are hard to come by, Paul’s dedication to renewable energy and sustainable development exemplifies the inspiring work of the community to create a positive future for the next generation.

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Henry Red Cloud (left) welcoming the Shields Family with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It was more than a privilege to be included in the occasion. I couldn’t begin to choose my favorite moment from the weekend. Would it be shaking hands with the new owners, or seeing tears in their eyes? Sharing laughs, meals, and work with the other volunteers or gaining a new perspective without even noticing? Maybe just taking in the scenery and the soul of a place I had never been.

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Adelle McDaniel playing with the kids during the open house.

The question of where I was going was perhaps both more and less easily answered than what I was doing. I was going to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I came back from a place filled with devastation and hope, injustice and integrity, and a deeply embedded history with courageous new beginnings.

If you would like to help programs and projects such as this, please donate today! 

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Henry Red Cloud Wins the 2012 Energy Globe World Award!

Photo by Energy Globe 2012

The 2012 Energy Globe World Award was presented to Henry Red Cloud today at an award ceremony in Vienna, Austria. Mr. Red Cloud, owner of Lakota Solar Enterprises, was presented with the 17-kilo bronze statue in honor of his project “A Better Future through Natural Power Energy “, which was also the winning project in the category of Youth.

Award nominees from 14 different countries were in attendance at the award ceremony in the grand ceremonial hall of the city hall in Vienna, Austria, on 13 September 2012. Thrilled with excitement they looked forward to the announcement of the final winners in the categories of Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Youth.

“Through renewable energy, we can provide sustainable, environmentally friendly, economically beneficial, and culturally acceptable solutions that improve the quality of life for Native Americans, while protecting and honoring Mother Earth” said Henry Red Cloud.

Thanks to prominent supporters such as Kofi Annan, several presidents of the EU Parliament and EU Commission, EU environmental ministers, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNEP, and celebrities such as Martin Sheen, Aamir Khan, and Alanis Morissette, the Energy Globe Awards have become a global beacon for environmental awareness and sustainable actions.  With 151 participating countries this is the world’s biggest and most important environmental platform.  Since 1999, over 6,000 projects have been submitted but only 12 top Global World Awards have been presented.

Richard Fox, long-time friend of Henry Red Cloud and Executive Director of Trees, Water & People (TWP), said “This is a tribute to the great work of Henry Red Cloud, but also to the whole Lakota Solar Enterprise team and to all the Native Americans who have strived to blaze a path to understanding true sustainability and the importance of building green jobs and moving their tribes towards energy independence.”

Together with Henry, TWP runs the Tribal Renewable Energy Program, which puts the power of nature — the warmth of the sun, the power of the wind, the shelter of trees — to work for Native Americans. Working with reservation communities, TWP builds and installs supplemental solar air heaters for families in need, provides green job training to tribes around the country, and plants windbreak and shade trees around homes. These solutions are sustainable, economically beneficial, environmentally friendly, and celebrate the Native Americans’ respect for Mother Earth.

Learn more about the Energy Globe Award here: http://www.energyglobe.info

Notes from the Field: New friends, new home gardens, and “natural” disasters

by Jordan Engel, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern

The past two weeks have been a dramatic up and down ride at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. We were so lucky to spend a week with a church group from Colorado as they learned about Lakota culture and volunteered their time on the reservation.  The group was on a youth mission trip from the Heart of the Rockies Church in Fort Collins, and we haven’t seen a group of better learners or harder workers. They helped us pull weeds and harvest on the Solar Warrior Farm, clean up the grounds around the workshop, rebuild two solar air heaters, and plant a vegetable and herb garden for one lucky Pine Ridge family.

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Re-caulking solar panels to withstand the heat of the Ute’s tribal lands

The already constructed solar heaters, which were destined for the Ute reservations of Southwestern Colorado, needed to be taken apart and re-caulked. They had originally been sealed with a low-temp caulk, that while reliable for South Dakota weather, would not stand the test of high heat. We recently discovered that the caulk was melting in a unit we just installed on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and it couldn’t handle the stronger Southwestern sun. Since the Ute reservations are in that same part of the country, we upgraded to a high-temp caulk to prevent future melting.

food security program_family gardenHeart of the Rockies was generous enough to bring plants and seeds with them to start a garden at the home of our goods friends, the Black Feathers. Headed by Shirley Black Feather, the family has dreamed about having a productive garden for a long time now. Shirley is a diabetic who needs to go in for regular dialysis twice a week. The procedure is costly and difficult on the family, especially when the Black Feathers have no transportation to drive Shirley 10 miles to Pine Ridge. Access to fresh, healthy produce that is grown right at their home is the best pejuta – medicine – they can get. Together with Shirley’s son, Virgil, the Heart of the Rockies crew planted a small diabetic-friendly garden. Drawing inspiration from our own Solar Warrior Farm, the Black Feather’s garden had a mix of the three sisters, tomatoes, peppers, greens, and herbs, made use of milk jug irrigation, and was planted in the symbolic shape of a Lakota medicine wheel. Once everything was in the ground, the space was blessed with both a Lakota prayer by Virgil and a blessing by the church pastor, Scott Hardin-Nieri. Before the group left, Virgil gifted them two of his original paintings and the group reciprocated by giving him a set of oil pastels. Tears were shed, new friendships were formed, and lives were changed. It was a beautiful moment.

As those new friends were leaving, another new face came into our lives last week, as we played host for a week to Sarah Alderman, a journalist who is working with Aaron Huey to collect stories and portraits of Lakota life for National Geographic’s Cowbird storytelling project. Among the many folks Sarah recorded, Virgil Black Feather’s (http://natgeo.cowbird.com/story/33912/), and our own Solar Warriors Henry (http://natgeo.cowbird.com/story/33432/) and Darrell Red Cloud’s (http://natgeo.cowbird.com/story/34044/) stories are now online (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/08/pine-ridge/community-project).

Sarah published this before we could, but one of the stories you’ll hear Henry tell is of the disastrous prairie storm (http://natgeo.cowbird.com/story/33862/) that rolled through the Pine Ridge Reservation on July 21 and devastated our buildings, trees, and farm. Just as the sun was sinking below the horizon that night, dark clouds rolled over the Western hills and into our valley.

Anyone on the Great Plains knows that when you see storm clouds, you only have a matter of minutes to prepare. But this was no average storm – it was a highly localized and powerful wind shear. Imagine a tornado without the funnel and winds so fast that our wind turbine shut itself off. Pine Ridge Reservation wind shear damageOther effects included: an old trailer (whose frame was set to be reused as a new straw-bale home at the RCREC) blown apart, the garage door on the new Annex folded in on itself, decades old trees laying on the ground, and the Solar Warrior Farm nearly ruined…or so we thought. In the week that followed the storm, our Solar Warriors were busy in the garden standing up felled corn stalks and nurturing the plants back to health. With roots still firmly in the rich buffalo-fertilized earth, the farm is looking as good as ever. Harvest time is still here, and just today the bees arrived en masse to pollinate the corn. Now we’re looking forward to giving away more farm-fresh food this week at the big Oglala Lakota Nation Pow Wow in Pine Ridge.

In the week that followed the storm, our Solar Warriors were busy in the garden standing up felled corn stalks and nurturing the plants back to health. With roots still firmly in the rich buffalo-fertilized earth, the farm is looking as good as ever. Harvest time is still here, and just today the bees arrived en masse to pollinate the corn. Now we’re looking forward to giving away more farm-fresh food this week at the big Oglala Lakota Nation Pow Wow in Pine Ridge.

A battered Solar Warrior Farm after a massive wind shear pounded Pine Ridge.