A Visit to Cloud Nine

by Jeff Hargis, Trees, Water & People Board Member

Cloud Nine Recycling

A road trip to Phoenix to pick up my son provided a great opportunity for me to stop in Tuba City, AZ and visit Tyler Tawahongva, a Hopi member of the Coyote Clan, and the winner of Trees, Water & People’s 2014 Green Business in Indian Country Start-Up Award.

It was a bright and mild December day on the Navajo Reservation, and I was fortunate to catch Tyler on a day when he was loading a rental truck with tons (literally!) of recyclable materials for his regular trip to buyers in Phoenix.  So I was able to get a close-up look at his Cloud Nine recycling operation.

The operation requires a lot of work:  card board to bundle, aluminum cans and plastic bottles to sort and bag, and all kinds of electronics and appliances to be mined for steel, aluminum, and especially copper wire, which can fetch over two dollars per pound.  Tyler is looking to hire additional help which would allow him to process more material.

There are also many variables that can influence the profitability of the recycling business.  As Tyler showed me around, he was continuously bringing up ideas and asking questions regarding improvements to his operation.  Purchasing a baler would allow Tyler to process more cardboard and transport more per load to Phoenix.  The purchase of a utility trailer would eliminate the cost of renting a truck for transporting the material, not to mention the 150 mile round trip from Tuba City to the truck rental operation in Flagstaff.  All of these ideas provide opportunity for a little more profit for Cloud Nine, and a lot less waste going to the local landfill.

Tyler was able to finish loading the 16’ yellow rental truck ahead of sunset for the trip to Phoenix the following morning.  I lent a hand with the loading as we talked about Cloud Nine Recycling. I learned a lot about the ins and outs of the business.  I was impressed by the energy Tyler puts into the effort, and the ideas he has for the future.  With the TWP Green Business Start-up Award, these dreams for improving and growing the business have become real possibilities for Tyler.

I encourage you to support Tyler through his GoFundMe campaign so he can continue the great work he is doing within his community!

Reflections on Helping to Start Native-Owned Green Businesses

Richard Fox with students
Richard Fox (right) works with some of TWP’s Native American Green Business Development students and trainers at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

by Richard Fox, Executive Director

As I sit here listening to our students at our Green Business Development Training, I am sure we have made the right decision.

For years, through our Tribal Renewable Energy Program, we have been providing Native Americans with a wide spectrum of small-scale/big-impact renewable energy and sustainable home building training.  We realized though that while technical skills training is important, it is not enough to get new Native owned businesses started.  That is why we created this Green Business Development Training, using the Indianpreneurship curriculum developed by ONABEN, as part of our new multi-tiered approach of providing Native American students with the practical knowledge, resources, and confidence needed to create their own businesses.

business trainee grads
Graduates from our most recent Green Business development Training

Beyond this training, we have also instituted a national Business Plan Competition that will provide the winner with up to $40,000 in start-up capital, as well as hands-on business training and assistance in things like using Quick Books, developing and implementing marketing materials and campaigns, and overall business fiscal management.  As part of this effort, we have initiated our Business Start-up Mentor Program, where business professionals provide assistance to Native Americans who are in the competition.  The winner of the business plan competition will have a mentor assigned to them who will work with them over the next year to get their business started and rolling along.

This way we know that at least one new Native American green business will start up every year and hopefully others will form as we continue to have more students go through our training program.

tribal programYes, this path is definitely the right decision.  It has not always been an easy one to implement, and we will surely be improving each component as we move forward and learn from our experiences.  But we are committed to bringing renewable energy and alternative building options to Native communities and helping them move towards energy independence as well as economic stability.

We think long-term at TWP and know our efforts will take time.  But we have been working with tribal communities for more than 12 years and have established a network of Native Green Teams across the Great Plains.  They will surely be our strength and core as we expand these efforts to the hundreds of other tribes looking for green jobs and a new approach to using energy and building sustainability on tribal lands.

To learn more please visit our website: www.treeswaterpeople.org