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.

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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.

Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center
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.

Notes from the Field: Climate Change, Solar Warriors and First Harvests

by Jordan Engel, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern

It seems to be on everybody’s minds these days. Maybe they don’t reference it directly, but no one can ignore the facts. Climate change is happening now. In days like these, when 100 degree temperatures are engulfing much of the country and bizarre and deadly weather is taking its toll right here in our communities, we can no longer marginalize our relationship with the planet. The National Climatic Data Center released a study today reporting that the current drought affecting the continental U.S. rivals the severity of the 1930s dust bowl. Here on the Great Plains that might scare a few people. It seems inane that we as a society are still turning up the oven knob while you, your family, and billions of people you’ve never met are all inside that very oven. We must ask ourselves what we are doing for the Earth, and in turn for ourselves. Not for our grandchildren – that falsely implies that our actions will not affect us in our lifetimes – but ourselves.

At the Tribal Renewable Energy Program, we can proudly say that we are doing a lot.  We’re training Native Americans to be 21st century Solar Warriors and defenders of Mother Earth. This past week was an important milestone in the program as walls went up in the new training annex in Pine Ridge. The interior construction of this new training space was expected to take two weeks, and was done in just over one. So now we’ll just take a moment to send out a few obligatory thank you’s: Big thanks to TWP board member Jeremy Foster for leading this project. His dedication to the renewable energy program cannot be understated, and without him, none of this would have been possible. We’re also supremely indebted to all of our volunteers who gave their time to travel to Pine Ridge and work like dogs for a while. And of course, we couldn’t have done it without our friends at Re-Member, an amazing volunteer service non-profit based in Pine Ridge which supplied tools and man power for a week. If you haven’t heard of them, please do yourself a favor and check them out.

With all this heat, you’ll be happy to hear that the Solar Warrior Farm hasn’t shriveled up and the squash hasn’t begun baking right there in the sun. In fact, we were told the other day that it is the best garden on the reservation, and last week the Solar Warrior Farm had its very first harvest! Beautiful yellow summer squash, an explosion of zucchini, buffalo currants, buffalo berries, calendula flowers, cilantro, mint, dill, wild bergamot, and sage all came out of the garden are were promptly distributed to visitors and other Pine Ridge residents. The rewards of our food security program are beginning to be realized, and they are so sweet. The key to our success thus far has been access to water. Water is life – without there are no trees, no people, no Trees Water & People (and you shudder to think “what would the world look like without TWP?”). In the garden, ecological design demands that there is redundancy in all things as a sort of safety net to prevent complete system failure. Irrigating solely from well water is dangerous because times of drought will eventually leave people hungry as well as thirsty. As rumors began to circulate around the reservation that wells were going dry in Porcupine, Wounded Knee, and elsewhere, we didn’t wait any longer to diversify our water sources. A solar-powered pump was installed to divert water from White Clay Creek to the garden. Rainbarrels are planned for water catchment from the greenhouse roof. A large cistern in the garden is kept full as an absolute last resort to keep the plants alive. With these measures in place, we can allay our fears of drought and move on to other battles: pests.

If you drive down Solar Warrior Road this time of year, it might seem like you’re boating across rough water. Grasshoppers, thousands of them, jump out of the road on both sides and form what appears to be cohesive liquid wave until further inspection reveals it to be a biblical swarm of bugs. Folks around here have told me horror stories of how the ubiquitous insect destroyed their gardens in an afternoon. Luckily Henry, the experienced gardener that he is, had an organic solution to save the Solar Warrior Farm from being devoured. Spreading flour over the corn stalks acts as a natural insecticide that doesn’t poison the food. It seems to be effective so far, but it’s an ongoing battle.

I’m starting to wonder whether the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center may have outgrown its name. Since its inception, it has become an educational center in many areas other than energy – from sustainable food production to natural building. And it continues to grow. In the coming months, straw bale and rammed earth homes will be going up and natural construction workshops will be planned around those events. We already preparing the sites and anticipation is building.

As new architecture makes its way onto the reservation, I think it is appropriate to briefly pay homage to the vernacular architecture of the Lakota people. The more I learn about tepees (and I’ve learned a lot by putting them up and taking them down in the last couple weeks) the more I appreciate their design for doing everything that good architecture should. They use local materials, are appropriate for the local climate, the conical frame offers robust protection from the wind and rain, and they’re comfortable. I’ve slept in the tepee during the hottest nights of July and during the coldest nights of May – no complaints. A small fire inside the tepee will keep you plenty warm. Tepees are meant for easy assembly, but make no mistake; it’s only easy if you know what you’re doing. Henry was once in the tepee business and he and his family are seasoned tepee veterans. There are precise measurements and subtle details that that few realize. For instance, contrary to popular belief the tepee is not a symmetrical cone. The front end is more steeply pitched to leave a low ceiling in the rear sleeping quarters and a high one in the front living area. So if you’re feeling the heat out there, go crawl into a tepee if you have one.

Solar Women Warriors Trained at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center

Solar Women Warriors Miranda Red Bear and Ariel Frazier, both members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, learn to build the fan component of a solar heater at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.

Thanks to the generous support of many donors, we were able to provide two Native American women with full scholarships to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center’s most recent soalr heater workshop, providing them with important green job skills for the future.

Henry Red Cloud shows Native American trainees how to build and install solar heating systems.

Ariel Frazier and Miranda Red Bear, both members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, completed the 10-day workshop and received their Solar Technician 1 certification. Ariel and Miranda are now equipped with the technical skills to build and install solar heating systems in their own reservation communities.

Congratulations to Miranda and Ariel for their important accomplishments and we wish them the best in their future endeavors!

To learn more about green job training at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org or call Lacey Gaechter at (970)484-3678.

You are Invited to a Special Event Supporting Tribal Lands Renewable Energy!

For more information please call Lacey Gaechter, Assistant National Director, at (970) 484-3678 or email lacey@treeswaterpeople.org.

Notes from the Field: A Vision Unfolds

By Pete Iengo, TWP Office Manager & Volunteer Coordinator

August 11, 2011: Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

Day 3 of the Straw Bale Workshop, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center

Celebrating walls, a roof, and a long days work!

Today we started the day off by stacking the final bales up to the roof and stuffed all the gaps that were between the rest of the bales.  Finally we are ready to have a mud party!    We started on the inside.  The first plops of mud were slapped on by Henry and his grandsons.  It felt appropriate that this process was initiated across Lakota generational lines.  This very well could be an excellent community-based, sustainable solution for people on the reservation.

The rest of us were quick to join in…; its a lot of fun slapping mud on to the house.  There was no shortage of mudders, because well, it’s so fun!  The whole day there was lots of friendly mud slinging, slapping and hand printing.

Standing inside of the house mudding all day allowed you to feel how efficient it will be…; it is nice and cool!  The windows and door are strategically placed, according to the vision of Henry Red Cloud’s father.  The entire design was passed along to Henry orally and memorized so that it could be rebuilt one day.  That day is upon us.  It us humbling to be here and see the vision unfold.  This house is the seed of a vision that will help people across Indian Country; a prototype for a sustainable housing solution here on the rez.

You can contribute to sustainable housing on tribal lands by clicking here!

Notes from the Field: Let’s stop talking and start doing

By Pete Iengo, TWP Office Manager & Volunteer Coordinator

August 9, 2011: Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

We are on day two of the straw bale house construction.  There has been great progress, thanks to the seemingly endless enthusiasm and energy of the TWP volunteers, Re-Member crew, Northern Cheyenne Reservation trainees, as well as many friends and family of Henry Red Cloud.

Birch Hincks, TWP's Tribal Lands Intern, works hard building a frame for the straw bale house.

This progress is in spite of a daunting thundershower that rolled through at about 10am today.  It looked as though the storm could really hamper our progress.  However, the ominous soaker lasted about 40 minutes, and before I knew it the crew was back to work.  After the storm came a lot of humidity and some searing sunshine.  It was definitely a stark reminder of Mother Nature’s power, the harsh year round conditions here on the reservation, as well as the great power of human will.

This is a very diverse and determined group, and while there are different motivations coursing through the project, there is a common thread that has become clear; let’s stop talking and start doing something to help people improve their lives.

By the end of work today we will have a complete roof, and the door and window frames will be in place.  Also, the foundation will be secured to the straw bale stacks with a simple but effective wood slat and bale string system.  With the structure of the house securely in place we are ready to have a plaster party!  All day participants have been sifting the clay to a fine powder, in preparation of the mixing process.  The clay stucco solution is the glue that will unite the house structurally and is going to be applied tomorrow.  Henry has been jesting about tomorrow’s Plaster Party all day, keeping things light.  In the days following we will add the finishing touches.

Flip through the time-lapse photos below to see a days worth of construction on the new straw bale house.

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You can donate to this project by clicking here!

Notes from the Field: Sustainable Housing Solutions

By Jon Becker, TWP Board President

August 8th, 2011: Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

We arrived yesterday at about 5:30, thought we might be driving through a tornado in the last few miles.  We’re all in one piece.  We were able to go to the local fairgrounds for the final day of the annual Oglala Lakota gathering.  We saw unbelievable costume regalia, dancing, drumming, and song.  We were all moved and honored to be able to experience this.

Today’s action –  the foundation has been completed – earth bags laid up four courses high and tamped down into place.  Roof framing, using recycled plywood I-beams, completed, plywood roof sheathing underway, close to done.  Very interesting and diverse crew.  About a dozen from Re-Member non-profit located across the road that does a variety of service projects.  Re-Member staff

and visitors (from assorted Midwest locations, including a couple bicycling across the country) are here.  About six visitors from Northern Cheyenne reservation, who recently did solar air heater training and installations with Henry, are here, very eager to be helping out.  Two travelers from North Carolina have come.  Seven TWP staff, board, and friends are working, along with Henry’s sons Cyrus and Avery, and a few grandchildren.  Dave Kaplan and Lindsay Herrara of Fort Collins are doing remarkable experimentation and testing to determine the optimum “recipe” for stucco made from local clay which we’ll use to create a weatherproof exterior surface on top of the straw.   You can really feel the space now – a 24′ diameter circle, lots of natural (often local and recycled) materials, and good clean human energy going into it.  Nobody’s gotten hurt!  We’re having fun.  Please don’t rain on us (too hard).

You can help us finish this project by making a donation online! Click here to support sustainable straw bale homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Notes from the Field: The Gift of Heat, The Preservation of Culture

Lacey GaechterBy Lacey Gaechter, Assistant National Director

Pine Ridge, South Dakota

“The heater works great,” says Leonard Littlefinger of the solar heater that Trees, Water & People supporters donated to his Lakota language school. Our partner, Henry Red Cloud, installed the heater in the school’s meeting room, which Leonard said came in handy this winter as he consulted with tribal elders who are helping him establish his curriculum’s vocabulary and grammar. In Leonard’s words, the heater “did the trick.” “It just quietly did its job,” he added, “you know, when you get to be our age, you need a good heater.”

Leonard is the founder of the Sacred Hoop (Cangle’ska Waka’n: “chan-GLAY-shka wah-KAHN”) School, which is a part of the efforts on the Pine Ridge Reservation to preserve traditional Lakota culture. Part of learning a language, says Leonard, is understanding the way a society’s culture is integrated into its words. For instance, the Lakota word for hoop carries with it undertones of “the circle of life”. It is for this reason that Leonard chose the word hoop instead of circle for his school’s name.

The Sacred Hoop School’s first group of students is scheduled to arrive this June. Currently, Leonard is finalizing his curriculum with, as he puts it, “the combined knowledge of over 500 years of Lakota language and culture” between himself and the other elders. At this inaugural two-week immersion program, Lakota students, parents, and siblings will be invited to bring traditional language back into their home.

Leonard is truly a leader in his community and has been selected for an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the College of Mount Saint Joseph in Ohio, where he is delivering this May’s commencement address. We hope all Trees, Water & People supporters take the same pride that we do in playing a small role in the amazing endeavor of preserving the Lakota language.

To learn more about TWP’s Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program please visit http://treeswaterpeople.org/tribal/tribal_intro.htm .