Volunteer Voices: Sustainable Energy on Native Lands

by Kirstin Moore, TWP Development Intern

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).

Photo by Kirstin Moore

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.

Cedric Goodhouse of the Standing Rock Tribe and Lawrence Richards of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation connect wiring on a donated Magnum inverter.  Photo by Dave Bowden

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.

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A Trip to Pine Ridge for William Smith High School Students

by Chelsea Audin, Math Teacher at William Smith High School

Chelsea Audin 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.

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The students of William Smith High School work together with Henry Red Cloud to repair the greenhouse, despite windy conditions.

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.

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The students of William Smith High School, along with Henry Red Cloud and Trees, Water & People unloaded over 30,000 seedlings into the newly repaired greenhouse.

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.

 

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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.

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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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Volunteer Voices: Working on the Solar Warrior Farm and Loving Every Bit!

by Patrick Hall, TWP’s Solar Warrior Farm Intern 
What an exciting season it’s been! The farm seems to have a life of its own. I’ve been surrounded by farming my whole life, I’ve seen bits and pieces throughout the seasons, and I’ve studied a little and talked about it with friends, but I haven’t actually done farming myself. So in a way, this has been a very new and experimental opportunity for me. I’ve grown and learned so much just by listening to the winds and watching nature.

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The Solar Warrior Farm is thriving despite some setbacks earlier in the season, thanks to the hard work of Patrick Hall!

One difficulty I had early in the season was that the truck we use for hauling things and making store runs broke down, so I’ve been unable to get a lot of the supplies that I would like. However, that allowed me to focus on what I DO have and how I can utilize those things to reach my end goal. This season’s theme has been success and failure. Two steps forward, one step back. We started off with a late frost killing ALL of the transplants. Ouch. But with determination, we grew enough seedlings and talked to enough organizations in Fort Collins, CO to resupply.

However, I had never worked with irrigation before. So during this lag time between extermination and revitalization, I began experimenting and learning. Even after the plants came into the ground, I was still puzzled about certain aspects of irrigation. I still play around with it, trying to maximize the amount of water the plants are getting, only to realize I need a lot more emitters. So I bought some more — they were the wrong type. So I bought some others from somewhere else — they didn’t work. And we were buying hundreds at a time, so I really hope I can get some emitters that do WORK because these plants need more water!

Patrick (left) the intern with volunteer
Patrick Hall (left) works with volunteers to produce local food on the Solar Warrior Farm on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Something I truly appreciate is the magic of this place. Listening to stories of the elders, reading books written by medicine men, visiting sacred sites and hearing the spirits’ call, this has been a beautiful place to reside. I’ve left the farm a few times to go to a sweat lodge or go hiking with a friend, but for the most part, I’ve been staying right here. We even had a local mama turtle lay her eggs in one of the garden beds! Good turtle medicine, showing signs of fortitude and persistence, which was really helpful for me at the time. Tankashila (Grandfather Spirit) blesses me with what is needed, not just what I want. I’ve had a friendly face show up just as I begin to get lonely; a volunteer engineer shows up on the day that I was determined to put together the irrigation system and much more.

Trees, Water & People is a unique nonprofit working to find solutions to some major issues on the Pine Ridge Reservation. If you like the work they’re doing, show it by supporting projects like the Solar Warrior Farm.

 

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Volunteer Voices: A Bittersweet Trip to Pine Ridge

by Gemara Gifford, TWP Intern and CSU Alum

Those of us who work in sustainable development and conservation know all too well the roller coaster of “inspiration highs” and “heartbreak lows” that go along with this line of work. Working from an office is one thing, but working directly with the communities we are supporting is another. I am so grateful to have had the chance to visit Pine Ridge Reservation as a part of my internship with Trees, Water & People. As hard as it was to see the striking overlap between rural farmers in Guatemala, and Lakota families in South Dakota, it is incredibly important to recognize how these stories weave together.

“For me, it was difficult to see and hear about the state of people’s living conditions on the reservation, and their own personal struggles. Though, I also saw hope in the people we met who take pride in their culture and are excited to share it with others.” – Julia Matteucci, CSU Freshman

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Building a house for a Lakota family using sustainable Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) from local materials on Pine Ridge. Photo by Vanesa Blanco Lopez

I wasn’t alone on this roller coaster ride, however – nine enthusiastic Colorado State University (CSU) students participated in a week-long service learning trip as a part of their Alternative Spring Break. In fact, the TWP-Pine Ridge-CSU partnership has been in existence for over 10 years! During our week, we worked alongside Henry and Gloria Red Cloud and Lakota community members on a variety of service projects. On our first day, we prepared the Solar Warrior Farm for planting, an initiative that feeds hundreds of people each season who usually only have access to over-priced-and-processed foods found at the only grocery store in town. When I learned that over 60% of people in Pine Ridge suffer from diabetes and other diet-related illnesses, I realized first-hand how important food sovereignty initiatives are and have been within the Lakota Nation.

“By working on the farm, we were setting a foundation for Henry to feed people on the reservation and help educate people on how to grow healthy food and find a sustainable way to feed themselves.” – Amy Borngrebe, CSU Junior

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CSU Alternative Break students and TWP intern, Gem (far left) at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC). Photo by Gemara Gifford

Among the cross-cultural experiences we had, such as meeting a storyteller, visiting Wounded Knee Massacre, and participating in a Sweat Lodge Ceremony, we engaged in meaningful reflections each night at the Sacred Earth Lodge, and embraced the ups and downs of visiting Pine Ridge. After a week of bonding with new friends, and experiencing a forgotten culture so close to home, we promised to return one day.

If you would like to donate your time and volunteer with Trees, Water & People, please email Molly Geppert at molly@treeswaterpeople.org to see what opportunities we have available. If you’re short on time and can’t make a trip to Pine Ridge, please consider making a donation.

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Volunteer Voices: Cherishing a Blessing

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by Peggy Christiansen, Guatemala Work Tour Participant

I came back from our Work Tour with Trees, Water & People humbled, amazed, inspired, joy-filled, and moved to the depths of my soul.

La Bendición, which means The Blessing, is the right name for the little village we visited in southern Guatemala. Two groups of Mayans from very different geographical settings and cultural traditions – even different languages – share this land.  It’s an abandoned, overworked coffee plantation on a hillside that sits next to a virgin forest.  The area, which the Guatemalan government promised would be fertile and full of rivers, has one river and hurricane-strength winds six months out of the year.

And yet the people have named and claimed it as The Blessing.  They have coaxed a living out of that land for 15 years – all the while with a huge debt to the government hanging over their heads.  Why?

Why would they stay in such challenging circumstances?  Apparently, some haven’t.  Some of the younger folks have found the lack of electricity, the inconsistent attendance on the part of schoolteachers, the difficult access to the remote village, the continual struggle with the wind, and the on-going failure on the part of the government to keep its promises to be too much.  Some have sacrificed their strong connection with the earth and have headed for the city. Others have found their way to the States, where they work ungodly long hours to send money home to their families.

But many have stayed.

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The Mayan people I have known in my life are strong. Patient. Resourceful. Playful. And very, very wise. After all, the Mayans have persevered for hundreds of years. They survived colonization by the Spaniards. They endured the fruit companies and plantations and foreign land “owners” of the last two centuries.  And now somehow they have survived the brutal years of oppression and massacres by their own government, a government that was financed and trained in “anti-communism” techniques by the United States.

Weakened in numbers, traumatized by torture…  they are STILL HERE!

Strong. Patient. Resourceful. Playful. And very, very wise.

When the death squads “disappeared” people, and Central American refugees had to seek asylum, especially in the 1980’s when the situation was at its worst, a Sanctuary movement in the U.S. and Canada created an underground railroad to help people escape. Many gatherings were held during those years – both here and in Central America – and families and friends and strangers would call out the names of the disappeared and the assassinated, and the whole crowd would shout back, “¡Presénte!”

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HERE!”  “Present!”  It was a declaration that those who were gone lived on, and a promise that their work would be carried on.  People stood together in solidarity against the vicious military campaign that targeted human rights workers, teachers, doctors, priest, and thousands and thousands of campesinos.

In 1996, when peace was finally declared in Guatemala, the indigenous Mayan peoples were promised a voice and basic human rights. The process since then has been long and difficult.  And there is far to go.

But the campesinos in La Bendición are an awe-inspiring example of the courage and the perseverance required on this journey.  Together they are creating a place where the values and the strengths of the Mayan people can shine forth and illuminate for the rest of us what it means to heal our earth.  They call it “la lucha,” the struggle to overcome obstacles and difficulties, the work for peace and healing and regeneration for all.

P1040628I learned many lessons in the short days that felt like a lifetime.  Those lessons will continue as our group and TWP develop the relationship and the friendship between Fort Collins and La Bendición.

In the future, I want to share some stories about the people who are teaching me those lessons.  For now, I simply want to say thanks.

Thank you, TWP, for introducing us to La Bendición and for sharing the amazing partnership you have created there.

Thank you, fellow travelers, for the wonderful ways you were present on this journey.

Thank you, Lucas, for your huge heart, your constant smile, and your constant care.

And, a huge thank you to all of the special people of La Bendición, who opened your hearts and your homes and your lives and your wisdom to a group of strangers. You worked so hard to care for us and still, after all that, you urged us to come back.

We will.

In solidarity, we will partner with you in “la lucha” – both here and there.  And “si Dios quiere,” we will be back.  As you said to us over and over, “we are one human family.”  And I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for The Blessing in that.

Intern Spotlight: Jordan Engel

Photo by Lindsay Herrera

This month’s featured volunteer, Jordan Engel, is embracing a truly unique opportunity through Trees, Water & Peoples Internship Program.  Originally from upstate New York, Jordan moved to Kentucky in 2010 to attend Berea College.  With his studies focused on Sustainable Community Development, Jordan’s decision to pursue an internship with TWP for the summer was a no-brainer.   “I first heard about Trees, Water & People when I saw Henry Red Cloud’s profile in Yes Magazine,” Jordan explained.  A few months later Jordan finds himself (a self proclaimed “Yankee”) smack dab in the middle of Indian Country, working side by side and towards the same goals as our partner, Henry Red Cloud.

Jordan arrived in Pine Ridge South Dakota excited to learn about sustainable building techniques and solar energy.  After living on the Rez, Jordan has learned about a lot more than just that.  “The numbers only tell part of the story,” Jordan exclaimed when referring to the staggering poverty statistics that exist about life on Pine Ridge.  “I’m learning about happiness, and how to be happy…how to live my life and make the most of it.”  The Lakota culture is beautiful and can be quite invigorating; Jordan’s learning this firsthand.

The Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) campus on the Pine Ridge Reservation is the heart of TWP’s Tribal Renewable Energy and Food Security Programs, and the place that Jordan calls home at the moment.  As TWP’s on-site assistant, Jordan handles a myriad of tasks including maintaining and improving campus buildings, assisting Henry in accommodating trainees, and assisting Henry with sustainable living and renewable energy projects.  When asked what his favorite task is, he said it’s definitely taking care of the Solar Warrior Farm and foraging for traditional foods.  “I love working the earth!” Jordan exclaims,  “We’re growing food for the people and it’s making waves.  This is a little thing that’s making a big difference.”  In the end, this is what TWP is all about: Finding culturally appropriate ways to improve lives and help people manage their natural resources.

If you would like to hear more about Jordan’s experiences, check out his regular “Notes from the Field” posts right here on the TWP blog.