As the storms and flood events in the Midwest this past winter and spring demonstrate, extreme weather events spurred by climate change are becoming the new normal. Often, those hardest hit are the most vulnerable, and their communities often lack comprehensive adaptation strategies to prepare for these shifts.
For that reason, we’re proud to welcome two talented Colorado State University (CSU) alumni to Trees, Water & People (TWP) who bring deep, personal experience in helping Native American communities thrive culturally, economically, and ecologically.
Dr. Valerie Small joins us as TWP’s new National Program Director, bringing several years of experience working with Tribal colleges and communities on climate adaptation strategies. She comes to us from the Crow Tribe in southern Montana and is excited to help us think bigger about climate readiness for indigenous communities across the Americas.
James Calabaza came to us from the family farm where he grew up in Kewa (Santo Domingo) Pueblo, New Mexico and a position with the USDA in Albuquerque, where he worked in farm loan management. His vast background in counseling Native youth in both academic and community settings will help him lead TWP’s in-field operations and educational programs as our National Program Coordinator.
Our schedule for the National Program over the next six months is packed with new projects, new partnerships, and long-term visioning for TWP’s next 20 years. We know that to achieve great things, we have to make great investments in our organization, and we’re betting that these talented individuals will help us all do our best work yet for people and planet.
Please help us welcome Valerie and James to the TWP family!
By James Zafarana, CSU Alternative Break Participant
I feel blessed to have gone to the Pine Ridge Reservation with Trees, Water & People and Colorado State University. Over the past few months, our group of eight students have been learning about the reality of life on Pine Ridge. It was honestly scary. The statistics speak for themselves. Indigenous communities in our country face some daunting institutional barriers. It made me wonder where we can target interventions to chip away at these obstacles. Trees, Water & People, along with the community partners we worked with on the reservation, taught me how we can work collaboratively to dissect these issues.
During our trip, we spent a day at the Allen Youth Center, where we saw how the Center is providing a safe space for youth on Pine Ridge. During the day, we played with kids and learned about how the Center is mentoring the kids and helping to preserve Lakota culture. The mentors told us how they are attempting to combat the high dropout rate, mental health, and substance abuse issues through mentoring.
We spent two days at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. During this time we helped maintain their sustainable garden and install a new roof on their greenhouse. Henry Red Cloud, the proprietor of Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), showed us how his community is using renewable energy to provide power and heat homes on the reservation, reducing the economic burden of energy use. He explained how his partnership with TWP has enabled LSE to scale up their operation and provide a teaching space for sustainable energy and gardening practices.
Our last day was spent at the Pine Ridge Girls’ School. This school is working hard to revive their culture by incorporating traditional knowledge systems with Western education models. While this school acknowledges the value of teaching Western methods of scientific discovery, they also feel strongly that their mission is to foster an appreciation for their students’ traditional Lakota culture.
Each of these places are tackling these formidable barriers in ways that felt more attainable. This trip was one of those unique experiences that helps refine your values and inspires your future. It demonstrated to me how even some of the most daunting, wicked problems can be tackled when members of the community fight.
For more information about upcoming service trips like this one, please sign up for our email list!
It’s saddening to witness America’s Native people living in such poor, inadequate conditions. The Lakota were forced to migrate to the Pine Ridge Reservation, and after decades of oppression many of them are now unemployed, suffering from malnutrition, and unable to meet their basic needs. Some people living on the reservation have little to no access to the electrical grid. For others, electricity is available but the cost of the utility is impractical.
Upon arrival to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), you are immediately welcomed by a huge mural with the words Hau Kola painted in large letters, which translates to “Greetings Friends.” It is a place where like-minded people who share a similar vision are able to connect. It all began with what Henry Red Cloud calls a “hot-air collector.” He was building his own when his curiosity led him to form a natural relationship with Trees, Water & People (TWP).
Thanks to the supporters of TWP, a week-long workshop was held to educate Native Americans on how to build and maintain off-grid solar systems. What would have been a thousand-dollar training session was free for those interested in participating. People came from on and off the reservations, including Standing Rock, with the intention of spreading the word of harvesting sunlight as an energy source and job creator.
Professionals from Solar Energy International (SEI) taught us how to generate electricity through the simple task of monitoring the sun. Our team developed off-grid, 12 volt solar light buckets and a small 48 volt trailer with the ability to power lights, computers, pumps, and tools. The most amazing aspect of the training was that no matter your skill level, you were able to gain an understanding of what solar power can do and how the systems operate.
For example, I learned that the PV panel converts solar energy into electrical energy; the charge controller regulates the amount of charge going in/out of the battery, and the inverter changes DC current to AC current and vice versa. Within a week, I had advanced from stripping wires to wiring components.
One merely has to look around, read some news, and watch a little television to understand there is a dire need for sources of clean energy. This innovative technology is affordable and can be applied as a method to reduce energy consumption from the grid and encourage self-sufficiency through renewable energy.
To learn more about the events and workshops of Trees, Water & People, or how to get involved, please sign up for our monthly newsletter.
We are excited to introduce our supporters to our new National Director, Eriq Acosta! He will be working closely with our partner, Henry Red Cloud, on the Pine Ridge Reservation to keep our Tribal Renewable Energy Program running strong. Here’s a little bit about him:
I am a Mexican American Indian man whose education and life have spanned throughout the United States. My passion for working with young people and families has earned me many honors and speaking engagements promoting unconditional positive regard and strength-based programs for youth and families throughout the U.S. When doing this work of my heart, I am transparent, authentic, honest, and passionate about modeling principled behavior. With the support from many mentors, I realized the impact that this work provides Native American communities as an inspiration and guide to re-learning and recovering “multi-generational greatness.”
I earned my bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and a master’s at Regis University where I excelled academically and socially. I have spent the majority of my career in the nonprofit sector: United American Indian Involvement, National Indian Youth Leadership Project, and Red Horse Nation, in urban areas and on reservations throughout the U.S. as a teacher, mentor, trainer, guide, and community member.
Currently, I hope to expand the healing work of Trees, Water & People based in Fort Collins, Colorado, by combining my gained experience throughout the years, and most importantly the wisdom of our elders. I will work to assist and learn from the many communities TWP serves, as well as to embrace the multi-generational greatness of Native American communities!
Welcome, Eriq! We know you will be a great addition to the TWP Family!
Richard Fox, Trees, Water & People’s co-founder and former Executive Director/National Director will be retiring after 19 yearsbut will remain on staff to help Eriq transition to National Director through the end of the summer. Following his retirement, Richard will remain involved with TWP as a board member.
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by Chelsea Audin, Math Teacher at William Smith High School
ChelseaAudin and Matt DiOrio are two teachers from William Smith High School in Aurora, Colorado. They teach math and English (respectively) and recently worked with students on a service based class to Pine Ridge Reservation. William Smith is a High School that values service, community and student exposure to new experiences and culture.
As two teachers from Aurora, Colorado, we were looking for ways for our students to gain cultural perspective while feeling the ability to engage in lasting work that authentically impacts a specific community. We have partnered with Trees, Water & People in the past to work with Henry Red Cloud and Lakota Solar Enterprises. This year, we were able to expand this learning opportunity and create a short class in which 18 high school students began by learning about the history of the Lakota Sioux Tribe and ended with a week of service and collaboration on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Prepped with historical background of the culture, struggles, and traditions of the Lakota people, students understood the importance of land, nature, and preservation and thus understood the partnership between Lakota Solar Enterprises and Trees, Water & People.
Our first day with Henry, Trees, Water & People delivered 33,000 seedlings that would help reforest lands in Pine Ridge that had been devastated by two wildfires within the last decade. In preparation for the delivery, it took all 22 of us all morning to re-roof the greenhouse. Imagine flying a 75ft by 50ft kite, because that is what it felt like to hold down the roof until it was connected properly — needless to say, this would have been far more difficult without our small army of students.
Aside from the physical accomplishment of seeing the new roof secure on the greenhouse just as it started to rain, our experience was enhanced as we worked alongside Henry and others from Lakota Solar Enterprises to accomplish this task. Our students quickly gained the confidence to ask questions and engage in conversation with these individuals in order to enhance their understanding of the culture and traditions of the Lakota, as well as the vast number of people this work would impact.
At home, students are able to travel down the block in order to have access to fresh food; Henry is working tirelessly to provide as much access as possible for others on Pine Ridge through sharing the food produced in this greenhouse and on his farm. Through education and stewardship, he also encourages others to replicate his work in order to provide fresh food for themselves.
The culminating work on our trip was the planting of nearly 600 seedlings. Henry explained to our students that the trees they were planting would have a 200-year legacy. Each tree will provide both the habitat and oxygen necessary for the reservation to be sustainable. Our students left with the knowledge that while they are helping by providing service to a community in need, their work will mean more as it will continue to help a culture in need.
If you are interested in learning more about group trips to the Sacred Earth Lodge on the Pine Ridge Reservation, sign up for our monthly eNewsletter for upcoming opportunities.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.