Project Update: Turning Four Walls and a Roof into a Home

henry and paul

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

The Great Plains have seen a milder winter thus far, which has been beneficial for many reasons.  For our project, this means that we have been able to move forward on the interior of the Shields’ new Compressed Earth Block (CEB) home. In January, we were able to run all water and electrical lines throughout the home. We are now seeing the house become livable. Now that we do have electricity, we are able to heat the home, allowing us to plaster the interior block walls and completely seal up the house.

The sustainable CEB design provides a unique heat sink where the walls hold heat long after the heating source has stopped running. But heating a home with gas or electricity is not ideal on the reservation, as electric and propane costs can skyrocket in the winter. This is why we are very much hoping to fund a grid-tied Photovoltaic solar panel system to offset some of the homes electrical costs. Please see our microproject to contribute to this solar PV system!

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Over the past month, we have started hanging drywall on the interior walls and ceiling. Soon we can begin insulating the attic with “Rez Paper,” as our partner Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises likes to call it. This particular cellulose insulation is partially made from recycled newspaper from the reservation along with clean cellulose plant material.

As the home progresses this spring, we look forward to showing the people of Pine Ridge and beyond that Compressed Earth Block construction is not only functional but livable. We are putting the finishing touches on the Shields’ house but we need your help to truly give it that finished feel. The Shields family is anxiously waiting to move in so please consider contributing to this important project!

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Join us! Volunteer Trip to Pine Ridge – Sept. 24-27

volunteers at Pine Ridge
Volunteers work with Henry Red Cloud to build solar panels at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.

Come join us for a weekend of volunteering at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), headquarters of TWP’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program. On this trip, we will be getting RCREC ready for Winter, including putting on limestone coatings on our three straw bale and compressed earth block (CEB) buildings, and helping to close up the Solar Warrior Farm. We will also visit and help with construction of the CEB house we are building for Paul Shields and his family (Paul is the son of Leonard Peltier). This will be a great opportunity for learning and making new friends. We hope you can join us!

Sacred Earth Lodge
Stay with us at the Sacred Earth Lodge!

Where: Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota (Five hours from Fort Collins)
When: Thursday, September 24th – Sunday, September 27th
Who: Flexible volunteers who like adventure, hard work, and lots of fun. Volunteers 14-18 are welcome with adult supervision.
Why: To continue our efforts to develop a unique regional renewable energy and alternative building training and demonstration Center for Native Americans.

Volunteers are invited to arrive any time on Thursday, September 24th. We will host full work days on Friday and Saturday and a half day on Sunday. Projects will end by 1:00 pm on Sunday, and volunteers are welcome to head home any time on Sunday, September 27th.

Food:

  • TWP will provide volunteers with meals and snacks during the trip.
  • Food purchased by TWP will be simple and tasty, but feel free to bring any other food/snacks you desire. TWP’s kitchen, cooking equipment and utensils will be available for use.
  • Volunteers will help in preparing all meals and with clean up.

Transportation:

  • All volunteers are responsible for their own transportation and related costs getting to Pine Ridge.
  • We will be happy to coordinate carpools where possible.
  • Our facility is located down a short dirt road. Many sedans have traveled it without any problems.

Lodging: We have 23 beds available in the Sacred Earth Lodge in three dormitory rooms.  More beds are available in the loft of the Shop and Manufacturing facility.  You should bring your own sleeping gear if at all possible, though some of ours will also be available.

Camping:

  • While it could be getting chilly by then, volunteers who would like to camp on the RCREC property can do so, but they must bring their own camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag and pad, etc.).

To volunteer, please email the following information ASAP to John Motley at john@treeswaterpeople.org:

  1. Name of all people in your volunteer party
  2. Email addresses for all people in your volunteer party
  3. Your cell phone number
  4. Which days you have available to travel to and work in Pine Ridge
  5. Where you will be coming from and returning to (e.g. many people will be coming from Fort Collins, CO)
  6. Whether you will be camping or require a bunk in the Lodge or Loft (first come, first served!)
  7. Do you need a ride?
  8. Can you offer a ride – if so, to how many people?
  9. Any other questions you may have.

Once we have confirmed your spot, we will email you directions to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and provide you with additional details. We look forward to having you join us!

Notes from the Field: Native Students Expand Solar PV at KILI Radio

KILI radio solar PV expansion

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota, over 40 percent of residents live without access to electricity. On Native American Reservations across the U.S., the Energy Information Administration estimates that 14 percent of households have no access to electricity, 10 times higher than the national average. Many tribes are looking to renewable energy as a way to provide reliable, clean energy to their tribal members.

Since 2007, Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program has been training Native communities in a variety of renewable energy applications, including solar PV, solar heating, wind energy, geothermal, and solar water pumps. This program strives to put the power of nature — the warmth of the sun, the power of the wind, the shelter of trees — to work for Native Americans.

Last week, we hosted a Solar Energy Workshop that brought Native Americans from around the country to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The workshop explored basics of solar energy and culminated in a hands-on installation at the KILI Radio station, Voice of the Lakota Nation, where students expanded a solar PV array.

Students expanded the KILI Radio station's solar PV array, creating more clean energy sources on Pine Ridge. (Photo credit: Boots Kennedye)
Students expanded the KILI Radio station’s solar PV array, creating more clean energy sources on Pine Ridge. (Photo credit: Boots Kennedye)

We were honored to have an all-star list of guest instructors join us for this workshop. Special thanks to:

 To learn more about upcoming workshops please visit www.solarwarriors.org.

Indigenous Permaculture: Creating Space for Others in Our World

Shannon Francis
Instructor Shannon Francis facilitated a 3-day workshop about Indigenous permaculture and food sovereignty.

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

We’ve just concluded our first food sovereignty workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Students participated in hands-on projects around the Solar Warrior Farm – renewed the compost bins, created a long-row of sheet mulching that will be a great home for seedlings next spring, and made some wonderful food to share. But meanwhile, we also talked about those bigger issues of community organizing, advocating on the national level across tribes, starting shared garden spaces in cities, and integrating solar technologies into the farm. These discussions were why we titled this event “More Than Food: An Indigenous Food Sovereignty Workshop.”

Students learned about food sov from growing to cooking local.
Students learned about food sovereignty from growing to cooking local, organic foods.

Shannon Francis (Hopi/Dineh) facilitated our three days together, walking us through not only contemporary permaculture, but permaculture that begins with the values and principles of our ancestors, brought forward to today’s world.

One lesson I took away from the workshop was how to create spaces that allow us to grow food we need for our families that also allow, welcome, make use of, and feed other animals and plants. Besides putting up fences to keep our food safe from larger animals, we can also create areas where animals – butterflies, turtles, rabbits, elk, etc. – are also fed and housed. We can take another look at “weeds” and see them as the medicines, the indicators of soil health, the food for us and others. They are related to us, and we are related to them.

Care for the land and the land will care for us.
Care for the land and the land will care for us.

This way of making a garden or farm comes directly from our traditions about thinking of others, sharing what we have, and providing for our community. I believe these values are the basis of the indigenous permaculture movement, and can take us from growing better food, to growing better relationships. Thank you, Shannon and all those who participated for bringing your knowledge and experience to this workshop!

Help Build a Home for the Shields Family

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Summary

Trees, Water & People (TWP) will help build an earth-friendly home using compressed earth blocks for Paul Shields, his wife and three children. Paul is the son of Oglala Lakota political prisoner, Leonard Peltier, and is carrying forward dreams of a better future. “My dad will be happy I finally have my own home and can pass it on to his grandkids after I’m gone.” With your help, we will work with builders, volunteers, EARTHinBLOCK, and Lakota Solar Enterprises to construct Paul’s new home this summer.

What is the issue, problem, or challenge?

The harsh climate on Pine Ridge Reservation can vary from -40 to 120 degrees. Typical homes are poorly maintained & insulated, with extremely high energy bills. In keeping with his Lakota values of caring for the Earth for future generations, Paul “wants something more sustainable and better for my children and a room of their own for the first time. I want to provide them with a solid home that stays warm in the winter.”

How will this project solve this problem?

Compressed earth block (CEB) construction is a very old and proven approach. The blocks have thick thermal mass that provides an energy efficient structure that keeps cool in summer and warm in winter. Paul learned CEB construction last year while creating an office building for LSE, and now has first-hand experience in soil testing, pressing blocks, and applying natural finishes to the outside that protect it from the elements.

CEB House

Potential Long Term Impact

Paul Shields will finally be a proud homeowner. The value of a well-insulated home for someone living on the Great Plains cannot be underestimated. Like many Native people on reservations, basic infrastructure like running water and electricity is not a given. Building Paul’s home from CEBs will serve as a model for other Native families to consider. TWP will promote this project as a demonstration of how a well-built, low-cost hone can be constructed for families in need.

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Notes from the Field: Sweating for the Small Stuff

 

Aquinas College vols 2014

by Daniel Hartman-Strawn, Project Coordinator 

Globalization and the media decide for us that we will hear about every civil war, every health crisis, and every despotic leader. This heightened attention to the world’s troubles makes it easy to lose sight of the issues in our own communities. As a result of being accosted 24/7 with shocking headlines, many Americans have decided that they will simply put their heads down and live within the confines of their own day-to-day interactions. I am sympathetic to their antipathy, but I also plan to do everything in my power to end it.

When I first began spending a week each summer on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota volunteering with Re-Member, the pace of change I witnessed frustrated me. I was not content with seeing two children get their first beds. I felt depressed when we only installed skirting on one trailer, in one community, on one Reservation in all of America. It was not until I joined the Re-Member staff in the summer of 2013 that I had a moment of clarity. After putting a new roof on a family’s trailer, an elderly woman living there said to me, “You have no idea how much this means to us.” She was right. It was on the drive back from the work site that I realized how much it would mean to me if someone, out of the kindness of their heart, came into my life and offered me compassion and hope in a time when I received little of either. My motivation for the work I do is a conglomeration of many moments, but this one is seminal to my passion.

Horses Pine Ridge Reservation
Tribal lands provide volunteers with beauty and culture unlike any other places in the U.S.

Both of my parents have worked in public policy for many years, and because of this I have often been fixated with the type of broad, sweeping changes that only policy (and lots of resources) can bring about.  However, it was only once I began to understand the equal importance of small impacts in a specific place that I became an effective operative for change.  When I first began working with Trees, Water & People this past August it quickly became apparent that they have the same attitude in their approach to alleviating poverty. The Clean Cookstove and Solar Energy Programs in Central America and the Tribal Renewable Energy Program on the Pine Ridge Reservation both provide immediate relief to those living in poverty by improving health and saving resources, while simultaneously benefiting the environment though reduced emissions as well as less wood and fossil fuel use.

Volunteers get their hands dirty building a straw bale home.
Volunteers get their hands dirty building a straw bale home.

Now, I am coordinating the Oglala compressed earth bock (CEB) housing Project, a volunteer project building a sustainable (CEB) home for the Shields family this summer on the Pine Ridge Reservation. This project is just a stepping-stone on the path to wider spread implementation of CEB structures on the reservation. However it will also make a huge difference in the lives of several humans, humans who like you and me want the best in life for themselves and those they love. This project also offers an opportunity for you to come and witness for yourself the power of making a difference in someone else’s life, and learn lessons from those less fortunate than yourself that will inspire you to look at your own life differently.

Let this be your call to action! Take a hold of the reins and contact Daniel Hartman-Strawn at daniel@treeswaterpeople.org or (970) 999-4450 for information on the CEB project on the Pine Ridge Reservation, or visit the Trees, Water & People website.

Food for Thought: Food Security vs. Food Sovereignty

Solar Warrior Farm

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

Most of us know the story of teaching someone to fish. But the fight against hunger has shifted greatly in the last decade. We are telling a new story – a story about sharing skills and knowledge back and forth, respecting and valuing tradition, and recognizing a great opportunity when we see it.

The difference is in the language we use and what we mean when we say “sovereignty” versus “security.” When we hear “security” many of us think of a one-way interaction – I am giving food to you. It is the way government food subsidy programs have typically been designed, particularly in Tribal communities. The focus is often on access to food, no matter where that food came from or how it was produced.

Support Food Sovereignty on the Pine Ridge Reservation! VOTE for Solar Warrior Farm in the Gardens for Good contest.

Food sovereignty refers to people determining for themselves who, how and where food is produced for their families and communities. To do this, they must draw upon traditional strengths and ways of knowing, as well as integrate new technologies and new opportunities. This is powerful stuff not only for those communities, but for those who hope to help them.

This is no longer a one-way street, but a call to learn from young people, elders, warriors and mothers. Native people have been successfully producing, preparing, storing food in creative and effective ways for eons. Native people connect with that legacy, and so food sovereignty means more than just getting healthier food on the table. It is reclaiming traditions and teaching others because in the current era, we are all in jeopardy of losing control of the where-how-who of our basic food/water needs.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) fully supports the rights of Native communities to self-determination through food sovereignty. We changed the name of our program to reflect our commitment to the bigger picture and the realities of the families we work with. We’re not only giving or teaching people to fish, we are working together with them to find better ways to fish so we all benefit in the long run. Yakoke!

To learn more about TWP’s Food Sovereignty Program click here.

Notes from the Field: A New Growing Season at Solar Warrior Farm

Solar Warrior Farm volunteer
We love our volunteers!

Not even a Mother’s Day snow storm could hold back the early plantings at the Solar Warrior Farm (SWF) and Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Hardy cabbages survived and are ready to greet the next sets as they arrive. May is a funny month in Zone 4, but many of the gardeners on the Pine Ridge Reservation are happy to see the last frost behind them and they are ready to start more of those early crops of spinach, cabbage, carrots, radishes and raspberries.

Anna Dunlap and Caroline Cuny
Anna and Caroline share gardening stories in the sun.

We were lucky enough to have a visit from Lakota elder and seasoned garden expert Caroline Cuny. She helped us welcome our new Solar Warrior Farm Coordinator for the season – Anna Dunlap, a student from Berea College in Kentucky. A lifetime organic gardener, Anna still had many questions about what works best in the particular microclimates on Pine Ridge. It really takes knowledge and experience to sense what the season might be like this year, and we are very thankful that Ms. Cuny could spend a day, have some lunch and share her time and talents with our crew.

And about those other tasks… The SWF needed some TLC. The beds are tilled, the plantings mapped out and visions of big, juicy tomatoes danced in our heads, as we mucked out the solar powered water tank, weeded the cabbages and cleaned out a space for work tables and starters in the greenhouse. Thanks to Uma Black Hawk-Wilkinson from the Cheyenne River community for helping with those efforts.

solar warrior farm volunteers

It just seems when help is needed, people show up. Trees, Water & People likes to be able to show up for others as well. In 2014, we plan on sharing more veggies and sharing knowledge through more workshops on gardening – focusing on traditional Lakota recipes and healthy eating. Gardening is a perfect time to bring young people and elders together, and helps keep Native communities strong.

We hope you will donate to this important project and consider visiting RCREC and Solar Warrior Farm in 2014. Stay tuned and watch us grow!

Notes from the Field: Always plant extra for the animals!

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

(L to R: Jamie Folsom, Caroline Cuny, Henry Red Cloud, and Ivan Looking Horse)
Sharing knowledge about gardening with Lakota elders. (L to R: Jamie Folsom, Caroline Cuny, Henry Red Cloud, and Ivan Looking Horse)

Sometimes the best lessons come in very short stories, especially in the middle of a very busy work day.

The busy work day was during my recent trip to Pine Ridge with a group of volunteers – mixing mud, plastering, gathering clay and hauling it back to the worksite – all to repair one of the demonstration straw bale houses at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.  We were very lucky to have Henry take a break from his work to spend a few minutes sharing his ideas and advice over some fresh tea.

Talking about the Solar Warrior Farm project, he said they always plant more than they need. He described watching the rabbits, horses, deer and other animals munching away in the garden with a certain fondness and joy. Not the most typical attitude toward animals in the garden (think Farmer McGregor and poor Peter Rabbit).

RCREC May 2014 Haley mudding
Hailey, a Lakota teenager, works on mudding the straw bale home at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.

But then he said, “It’s OK for them to eat food that’s right there in their house. That’s still their house even if it’s part my house, too. I know if I went in my house and saw free food, I’d eat it, you know? So, I always plant extra food for the animals!”

solar warrior farm

Thank you Henry for sharing what you do and what you have with others around you, and helping remind me of how we can do this every day in our homes, our relationships and our work.  Yakoke!

Bonus Day – 30% match on donations!

GlobalGiving Bonus Day

Today is a Bonus Day at GlobalGiving.org! Make your donations go even farther. When you support one of our projects on GlobalGiving today, your donation will be matched by 30%. Plus, the organization with the most individual donors will receive a $1,000 bonus.

Support one of the following projects that help both people and the planet:
Sacred Earth Lodge
Solar Warrior Farm
P.S. There are only $75,000 in matching funds available, so don’t delay in making your gift today.