Volunteer Voices: Tree Planting on Tribal Lands Nearly Complete

by Rachel Hamalian, Volunteer

From May 18 – 20, I had the privilege to be a part of Trees, Water & People and Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center’s (RCREC) campaign to plant 30,000 pine trees on Tribal Lands in areas most deeply affected by forest fires. I stayed at the Sacred Earth Lodge in Pine Ridge along with good and new friends who volunteered for this project. We all enjoyed breakfast and coffee together in the morning before heading off to locations on the Oglala side of Pine Ridge as well as at Wounded Knee. In the beginning, I felt nervous about plunging a large sharp blade into the ground to create a home for the baby trees – I’m not a particularly strong person, and I don’t pride myself on my manual labor skills. But, Avery and Silas Red Cloud taught us how to properly create a hole, plant the tree, get rid of any air bubbles, and create a nice bed. By the end of the first day, I was a tree planting master.

Black Hills Ponderosa Pines Seedlings were planted on Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Cheyenne River Reservations

One of the most memorable moments for me occurred on the last day of tree planting. Henry Red Cloud, one of the founders of RCR, spoke to our group of 25 volunteers as we began to plant. He told us about his beliefs for the mission, how we as humans seem to have lost touch with nature, and we treat it as a machine instead of as something alive. It is true, we take and take, and give little back. Henry told us, this is a way to give back, and these trees will continue to give oxygen and life for generations after us. We planted over 2,500 trees that day alone.

I struggle with finding the right words to describe the powerful lessons I’ve learned from my experiences and relationships built in Pine Ridge. While this project has helped to heal the landscape within the Reservation, there is still much healing to be done. I feel a great love for the Natives we worked with on this project, who invited us as volunteers to come back and continue to learn about their culture and how to be an advocate. I plan to accept their invitation, as well as continue my relationship with Trees, Water & People, and the good friends I’ve made who share similar goals.

Tree planters working during the month of May to fulfill our reforestation goal of 30,000 trees for Tribal Lands

A note from TWP’s National Director, Eriq Acosta: 

Thanks to the incredible donors, volunteers, residents of Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Cheyenne River Reservations, we are 95% complete with our third season of tree planting on Tribal Lands! Although tree planting season takes hard work and dedication, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to put a tree into the ground, and sharing the experience with like-minded people in the fight for a more just and sustainable planet. We will be headed back up to Pine Ridge Reservation next week with a group of 40 volunteers from Lansing Catholic High School from Michigan, and we look forward to keeping you updated!  

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Notes from the Field: 10,000 Trees for the Pine Ridge Reservation

Pine trees for Pine Ridge
10,000 pine trees ready for planting on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

Over the 125 years that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has managed the Pine Ridge Reservation, they have provided almost zero management of the tribe’s forest resources. As a result, the pine forest has shrunk considerably and in many places there are no longer enough trees to guarantee sustainability of the forest. Through discussions with Oglala Lakota leadership and representatives of several local Pine Ridge organizations, serious concerns have been expressed about the condition and viability of the remaining forests.

Pine Ridge reforestation project
TWP staff look out over the reforestation area on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Due to our long history and success growing and planting tree seedlings around the world, we were asked to develop a tree planting project on the Pine Ridge Reservation. This new endeavor aims to replant the legendary pine ridges, while also engaging Native American youth in the restoration efforts.

To initiate this effort, we established a partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service, who used seeds from South Dakota to grow 10,000 ponderosa pine seedlings in their greenhouses. Over the winter, we worked with our local partners at Pine Ridge to identify and select specific tribal lands for our first reforestation project (about 17.5 acres in total). We also worked with these partners to recruit young members of the tribe who will work with us on this project.

pine seedlings Pine Ridge Reservation

A few weeks back, we moved the seedlings from the Colorado State Forest Service tree nursery in Fort Collins to our greenhouse at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. This was a long journey for the small seedlings, but they all made it safe and sound!

This past weekend, we had a group of volunteers join us to begin planting the 10,000 trees. The rains cleared long enough for 3,300 seedlings to get planted – the start of an important reforestation program for the Oglala Lakota Tribe! In the coming weeks, tribal members will finish planting the remaining pine trees, participating directly in the conservation and management of their local forests. More updates to come as these little trees mature and become an integral part of the Pine Ridge ecosystem!

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 lacey@treeswaterpeople.org or by phone at (970) 484-3678.


New Food Security Program Will Provide Sustainable Food Production to Tribal Communities

by Birch Hincks, National Program

food security program
Working the land at the new Solar Warrior Farm

Our Food Security Program provides a functional and educational example of sustainable food production to tribal communities. The program empowers Native Americans to grow their own nutritious and traditional foods, an important step toward tribal food independence. By bringing together the tools and knowledge needed for sustainable food production, Trees  Water & People will directly strengthen the relationship of one’s food, one’s body, and the connection that Native Peoples have with Mother Earth and her ability to sustain life.

fodd security programThis past weekend, we had a second group of volunteers join us to break ground on the gardens and work on greenhouse structures at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Food Security Program’s Solar Warrior Farm will have a wide variety of native and heirloom fruits and vegetables. We will nurture this garden space by building raised garden beds, protected by hoop houses to extend the growing season. These small scale gardens will become living examples that Native Americans can visit and learn from. In addition, we will offer the fresh produce, grown at Solar Warrior Farm, to Pine Ridge residents in need. The farm will be open for harvesting as needed.

The Food Security Program will also improve the lives of vulnerable Oglala Lakota youth using a community-based approach, empowering families with the confidence, knowledge, and ability to produce healthy sustenance for themselves and their extended families. By promoting self-sufficient food production within the Pine Ridge community, children and youth will learn all the benefits that accompany producing food for themselves and their families, as well as the importance of nutrition and the negative health effects of processed foods. By volunteering their time in the educational garden space, they will learn self discipline, the rewards of hard work, and the importance of understanding the cycles of Mother Earth that their ancestors knew so well.

Sending Our Love to Chief Red Cloud

by Lacey Gaechter, National Director

Chief Oliver Red Cloud
Richard Fox (right), TWP's Executive Director, visits with Chief Red Cloud at his home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

I just got a very sad phone call from Henry – his uncle and the current Chief of the Oglala Lakota tribe has just received a prognosis that he will shortly be joining the spirit world due to complications from diabetes. Chief Oliver has opted to decline dialysis treatments, and instead returns home to live the rest of his life at home on the Pine Ridge Reservation. A healthy diet will make the rest of his time on earth longer and more comfortable. Henry is proud of his uncle for his decision to chose quality of life over prolonging his life in the hospital. He is upbeat about the rest of the time he will have with his uncle, and he asks all the Trees, Water & People (TWP) community to send good thoughts and prayers to Chief Oliver and the Oglala community that he has lead as his ancestors have for generations.

 Thank you, TWP supporters, for giving Chief Oliver the gift of heat with a solar air heater years ago. Please send good wishes to him now for comfort and love from friends and family.

Help Raise Funds for Straw Bale Homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation

The Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota, has a major housing crisis. It is common place to have Lakota families living in conditions of extreme overcrowding, with 3 to 4 families inhabiting one three-bedroom home. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewage systems; and many use wood stoves to heat their homes, depleting limited wood resources. The Lakota people are living in third world conditions, right in our own backyard!

Straw bale Home + Solar Heat = Sustainability

In partnership with Henry Red Cloud, Pine Ridge resident and owner of Lakota Solar Enterprises, we are working to bring sustainable housing solutions to reservation communities and we need your help!  We will begin by constructing a straw bale demonstration site at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), complete with solar heating and lighting. This demonstration site will be a place to conduct workshops, share knowledge, and pass on green building skills throughout Indian Country.  This will be the beginning of a long-term project to bring 600 straw bale houses to the Pine Ridge Reservation, providing families with dignified living conditions that every human being deserves.  Please join us in this effort and consider a donation to this important fundraiser.

How can you help? Make a donation, share this with a friend, donate your birthday (click here to learn how), join us for a FREE straw bale home workshop on Pine Ridge.

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Notes from the Field: Tree Planting on the Pine Ridge Reservation

By Megan Maiolo, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

June 6th, 2011: Pine Ridge Reservation, SD

We spent the last 4 days on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota.  With the help of over 20 volunteers, we planted 94 trees around homes on the Reservation.  These trees will provide families with windbreak from the bitter winter winds, shade from the intense summer heat, and, most importantly, the beauty of nature around homes.

TWP Board President Jon Becker plants trees with Noah Red Cloud in the Fraggle Rock neighborhood on Pine Ridge.

The majority of the trees were planted in the Fraggle Rock neighborhood, where many of the homes have been built by Alliance Builders, a great nonprofit based in Pine Ridge.  After we were finished we enjoyed a community potluck, drum circle, and fire show.  Celebrating the work with the communities we serve was the most rewarding part of this experience.

Pine Ridge is a magical place; the energy you feel when you are among the Lakota, our Nation’s First People, is powerful and often hard to describe.  The Lakota have a strong connection to the land, physically and spiritually, a connection that American society could greatly benefit from if it was explored and respected more.  This is a group of people that thrived on the Great Plains for thousands of years, up until the late 1800’s, when they were systematically slaughtered and pushed off their land by the U.S. government.  This genocide culminated with the massacre at Wounded Knee in the winter of 1890.  Since this time, the Lakota have been struggling to survive and preserve their culture.

The Tree Huggers!

Although this is the poorest place in the U.S., the Lakota are hopeful that positive change will come to their people, bringing with it a sense of healing for one of the most oppressed groups of people in this Nation’s history.

Thank you to our partner and dear friend Henry Red Cloud for hosting us and opening up his property for us to camp on.  In addition, we would like to send warm thank yous to all of our Lakota friends who accepted us into their community with open arms.  We are looking forward to the next trip to Pine Ridge, where we can share in the activities that make this a better place to live!

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Lakota Adventure 2011: A Journey to the Home of the Oglala Lakota


Solar air heaters are helping families to reduce their monthly heating bills by 20-30%. Help us bring hope to Native America, and join us on the 2011 Laktoa Adventure!

Join Trees, Water & People on a journey to the home of the Oglala Lakota for the 2011 Lakota Adventure.  From September 11th-17th we will be taking guests to the Pine Ridge Reservation to experience the strength, pride, humor and enduring culture of the Oglala Lakota. Despite hardship, the Lakota have nourished and preserved their spirituality, culture and ties with their land.


Learn about TWP’s Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program, help build solar air heaters, and plant trees for wind breaks and shade at a local families home.  In addition, we will travel to Wounded Knee and other cultural and historical sites to learn about the Lakota culture, past and present.

For more information and reservations, please contact Lacey Gaechter at 970.484.3678 or lacey@treeswaterpeople.org today!