Volunteer Voices: An Alternative Break to Pine Ridge

By James Zafarana, CSU Alternative Break Participant

I feel blessed to have gone to the Pine Ridge Reservation with Trees, Water & People and Colorado State University. Over the past few months, our group of eight students have been learning about the reality of life on Pine Ridge. It was honestly scary. The statistics speak for themselves. Indigenous communities in our country face some daunting institutional barriers. It made me wonder where we can target interventions to chip away at these obstacles. Trees, Water & People, along with the community partners we worked with on the reservation, taught me how we can work collaboratively to dissect these issues.

During our trip, we spent a day at the Allen Youth Center, where we saw how the Center is providing a safe space for youth on Pine Ridge. During the day, we played with kids and learned about how the Center is mentoring the kids and helping to preserve Lakota culture. The mentors told us how they are attempting to combat the high dropout rate, mental health, and substance abuse issues through mentoring.

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The CSU Alternative Break students at the Allen Youth Center painting with some of the children there.

We spent two days at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. During this time we helped maintain their sustainable garden and install a new roof on their greenhouse. Henry Red Cloud, the proprietor of Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), showed us how his community is using renewable energy to provide power and heat homes on the reservation, reducing the economic burden of energy use. He explained how his partnership with TWP has enabled LSE to scale up their operation and provide a teaching space for sustainable energy and gardening practices.

Our last day was spent at the Pine Ridge Girls’ School. This school is working hard to revive their culture by incorporating traditional knowledge systems with Western education models. While this school acknowledges the value of teaching Western methods of scientific discovery, they also feel strongly that their mission is to foster an appreciation for their students’ traditional Lakota culture.

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The CSU Alternative Break student stopped at Badlands National Park before heading home to Colorado.

Each of these places are tackling these formidable barriers in ways that felt more attainable. This trip was one of those unique experiences that helps refine your values and inspires your future. It demonstrated to me how even some of the most daunting, wicked problems can be tackled when members of the community fight.

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Mobile Power Station Workshop: Creating Energy Independence for Native American Communities

by Art Rave, Mobile Power Station Workshop participant 

I recently attended a mobile solar workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. The amount of information and the training I received at the center was wholeheartedly impressive. During the first few hours of the workshop, I started to learn the basics of solar energy and how solar energy systems work. Within the first few days of hands on training, I began to truly understand how the solar power energy systems operate. On last day of the workshop, I was ready to take all that I learned back to my community on the Cheyenne River Reservation and begin promoting the absolute necessity of solar energy.

Art Rave at Mobile Power Station workshop
Art Rave (left) receives hands-on wiring instruction by instructor Jason (right) of Remote Energy. Photo by Dave Bowden.

As a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, I understand first hand exactly what energy independence can mean to a struggling community. The vast diversity of organizations that partner with RCREC is a testament to the hard work and indomitable spirit of those at the center and the allies supporting it. Everyone was absolutely dedicated to the environment and sustainable energy. I was fortunate enough to have time to meet some awe-inspiring and dedicated individuals from Trees, Water & People. Their dedication to the environment is reflected by the hard work, devotion, and enthusiasm apparent in each of their employees. The solar energy instructors are an amazing group of educators with years of experience in the field. The passion they showed in helping our Native American communities is inspiring to all!

Carol and Art at Mobile Power Station Workshop
Instructor Carol (bottom center) teaches Art (front right) and the other workshop participants to read the labels on the back of a solar panel in order to connect it to the correct electrical system.

The solar energy instructors are an amazing group of educators with years of experience in the field. The passion they showed in helping our Native American communities is inspiring to all! Overall, what a great place to learn and share! The food, lodging, and staff were terrific! I cannot wait to attend another workshop with Henry and his amazing group of partners in renewable and sustainable energy!

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A Big Thank You to Lansing Catholic High School

by Eriq Acosta, National Director 

I recently had the pleasure to work with a group of Catholic high school students out of Michigan, Lansing while they were staying at the Sacred Earth Lodge. First and foremost this group of students and chaperones were truly amazing. The group was so eager to learn and put effort into the physical work as well; I was just blown away by their generous spirits.

While I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I was lucky enough to spend a few days with this group and was humbled by their work ethic and joyful willingness to provide service in the form of maintenance and cleaning at the Red Cloud Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) and tree planting at the new Veterans Memorial. They completed these tasks with ease and smiles on their faces.

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Students from Lansing Catholic High School planting trees at the new Veterans Memorial.

Several times the students and chaperones asked me what more can they could do to help, how they could improve projects they already completed. From my point of view, they went above and beyond their call of duty. At RCREC we have several buildings on the campus, and they cleaned and did general maintenance on at least 90% of the facilities.

Cleaning RCREC
Working hard to tidy up RCREC

The respect that they gave to the residents, especially the children, on the RCREC campus was a beautiful sight to see. They had the opportunity to listen to a tribal member speak about Lakota history and culture, as well as participate in a round dance and play musical chairs in conjunction with the drum playing. I have found that at this age one or two students just aren’t “feeling it” and don’t participate, but what I noticed most about this group is that they acted as one cohesive unit. I found this to be very impressive, and I feel like speaks volumes about their leadership. This was the group’s second time being on Pine Ridge, and by the end of the trip, they were already discussing a third! As a representative of Trees Water, & People I would love to call Lansing Catholic High School a partner and would love to have them on any project we do!

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