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.




Notes from the Field: Solar Heat Arrives to more Southwest Tribes

by Jordan Engel, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern

solar heater_ute mountain ute tribe
Emily White Man stands next to her new solar heater on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation in Towaoc, Colorado.

In the past couple of weeks, the Tribal Renewable Energy Program and Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE) had the chance to meet up with folks from the Ute reservations in southwest Colorado and give the gift of renewable energy to two families. Henry and I loaded the van with the pre-assembled heater kits (thank you Heart of the Rockies Church) on Sunday, July 22nd, and installed two units in two afternoons.

Henry Red Cloud solar heaterThe first heater was installed at the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s demo home in Towaoc, Colorado – where the Colorado Rockies meet the Great Basin Desert. Emily White Man, who lives in the home with her children and grandchildren, told me that the cold desert winters put a strain on her wallet as her heating bills were beyond what she could afford. The 1950’s-era, one story house is partly heated with butane, and partly with portable electric heaters in the bedroom where the butane heat can’t reach. With her new solar air heater, Emily can be comfortable this winter without burning as many fossil fuels or paying outrageous sums to the energy companies.

At the Southern Ute Reservation, a large group of neighbors, volunteers, and tribal employees came out to help with our installation at the Cedar Point Public Safety House in Ignacio. Though a much more modern house than the one in Towaoc, it was still heated with fossil fuels, though this time with natural gas. As pressure builds to frack Colorado’s natural gas reserves, this solar heater sends the message that there is another way.

solar heater_southern ute tribeThanks to our donors, Trees, Water & People donated the two heaters to the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes, the first step in spreading family-scale renewable energy to this part of Indian country. Now there are two more communities that have clean heat that will last for decades and perhaps a few people will see the units and be inspired to take our training class at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center in October.

“We do not want riches, but we want to train our children right.” Those were the words of Maȟpíya Lúta, Chief Red Cloud, whose name we honor at the Renewable Energy Center. The Solar Warriors we train here have the same priorities: to return to their communities and help their people, their children, and generations to come.

And with that, we’d like to welcome one more generation to our Solar Warrior community. Tashina New Holy, the first daughter of our own Delbert New Holy. She was born Saturday in Pine Ridge at just under 6 pounds. Yawášte!

More photos from the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute solar heater installations:

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Join us for Lakota Adventure 2012!

You are invited to the 2012 Lakota Adventure: Past and Present! Below, you will find an itinerary of events and a registration form. If you have any further questions about this trip please contact Lacey Gaechter, National Director, at or by phone at (970) 484-3678.


Trees, Water & People competing for new Toyota on May 27th

Trees, Water & People is one of 500 nonprofit finalists in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good program, a major philanthropic initiative in which the automaker is giving 100 cars to 100 nonprofit organizations over the course of 100 days.  Trees, Water & People was selected as a finalist from more than 4,000 applications nationwide.

Beginning May 14, 2012, 100 Cars for Good has been profiling five finalists a day at   Individual members of the public vote for which ever nonprofit they think can do the most good with a new vehicle.  The nonprofit with the most votes at the end of each day receives one of six Toyota models.  Runners-up each receive a $1,000 cash grant from Toyota.

Trees, Water & People will be up for consideration on Sunday, May 27th from 8:00 a.m. MST – 9:59 p.m. MST. To vote please visit

“All of us here at Trees, Water & People are honored to have been selected as a finalist for the 100 Cars for Good Program,” said Richard Fox, Executive Director of Trees, Water & People, “But, we really can’t be successful without the support of our community. Winning this car will help us increase our impact on Tribal Lands of the United States and we hope everyone will help us to spread the word now and, of course, will make time to visit on Sunday, May 27th, to vote for us.”

Tribal Program Competing for $50,000 grant

The Give hosted by Cultivate Wines

The Prize: A $50,000 grant from Cultivate Wines to build solar heaters on the homes of Native American families. The 2nd-6th place each receive $10,000 grants.

How can you help? Visit and cast your vote for our project. You may vote once per day so please bookmark the page and make your votes count each and every day of the contest!

cultivate wines the give

Trees, Water & People One of 500 Finalists for Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program

100 Cars For Good LogoWe are excited to announce that we have been selected as one of 500 nonprofit finalists in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good program, a major philanthropic initiative in which the automaker is giving 100 cars to 100 nonprofits over the course of 100 days.  Trees, Water & People was selected as a finalist from more than 4,000 applications nationwide.

Each day, beginning May 14, 2012, 100 Cars for Good will profile five finalists at   Individual members of the public will be able to vote for which ever nonprofit they think can do the most good with a new vehicle.  The nonprofit with the most votes at the end of each day will win one of six Toyota models.  Runners-up will each receive a $1,000 cash grant from Toyota.

Trees, Water & People’s voting day is on May 27th, 2012. Mark your calendars and cast a vote for us! 

“At Toyota, we appreciate what a significant impact a new car can have for nonprofits nationwide,” noted Michael Rouse, vice president of philanthropy for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.  “Toyota has donated more than half a billion dollars to nonprofits across the U.S. over the past 20 years, and 100 Cars for Good allows us to expand that commitment to local communities in important new ways.  The 500 finalists are an extraordinary group, and we look forward to the public learning more about them.”

100 Cars for Good is the first initiative to directly engage the public to determine how Toyota’s philanthropic donations are awarded.

For complete information on 100 Cars for Good and profiles of all 500 finalists, please visit

If TWP receives the most votes on May 27th and is awarded a new vehicle, it will be used by our Tribal Renewable Energy Program to safely transport all the materials needed to install our solar air heating systems on the homes of Native American families. Currently, the vehicles we own are very old and often times unreliable. A new Toyota would be a huge help with our efforts to bring sustainable, clean energy to Tribal families!

Native American “Solar Technician 1” trainees work with Henry Red Cloud (green vest), TWP’s Tribal Program partner, to install a solar air heater on a families home at the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota as part of our green job training program.

Notes from the Field: Solar Heating Arrives to the Navajo Nation

by Lacey Gaechter, National Director

solar air heater Navajo
Eva Stokely inspects her new solar air heater outside her home in Shiprock, NM.
Eva and Lacey outside the school named for Mrs. Stokely.

Last week I traveled with Henry Red Cloud – our Tribal Renewable Energy Program partner – to Shiprock, New Mexico, for Trees, Water & People’s (TWP) first ever project with the Navajo (Diné) Nation. TWP donated and installed a solar air heating system on Eva and Pete Stokely’s home, two retired Diné teachers, home. It turns out that Eva and Pete were the first Navajo teachers hired in the Shiprock district of the reservation. It was really an honor to meet people who played such an important role in that turning point in history – when education returned to the Diné people. Eva actually ended up becoming a school principal and was eventually honored by having a school named after her – Eva B. Stokely Elementary School. While I was sitting with her at her kitchen table, hearing a little bit about her background, she surprised me by offering a tour of the local schools. “I like to show them off.” She explained. And so it was that I had the opportunity, along with my amazing trip photographer and intern, Christy Proulx, to see not only Eva B. Stokely Elementary, but also Shiprock Associated Schools, for which Eva now serves as a board member. Something to be proud of indeed; both of these schools offer hope for the next generation!

To many people, Eva serves as a community leader, and we are very excited to have a solar air heater saving her $20-$60 a month on her heating bills, not to mention reducing her fossil fuel use by 20-30%! With Eva to spread the word, we look forward to bringing many more heaters to the Diné people. To learn more about TWP’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program click here.

Notes from the Field: The Gift of Heat

by Lacey Gaechter, National Director

Bernard Cuny (left) hugs TWP Executive Director Richard Fox

Trees, Water & People has worked with Bernard Cuny for the past 10 years planting shade and wind break trees for families on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. A member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Bernard runs his own tree farm out of Allen, SD, and has been a wonderful and reliable partner over the years. This winter, Bernard’s son, Lane, was diagnosed with cancer. All of us who know the Cunys are very humbled by this news and wish Lane the very best success in his treatment.

Because Bernard has long enjoyed the use of his own Solar Air Heater, he requested one for his son; a small gesture to help make the incredible challenge of living with cancer just a little more manageable. On Valentine’s Day, the Lakota Solar Enterprises crew installed a Solar Air Heater on Lane’s home – donated by Trees, Water & People’s generous Solar Energy for Lakota Families Cause. Now Lane’s winter will be warmer and his utility bills less expensive for many years to come.

Thank you for supporting this cause so that we could help ease our friend’s suffering through this hard time. Best wishes, Lane, for a very successful treatment and full recovery!