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.
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.
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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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.
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!
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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The sacred ancestral land of the Sioux holds many memories and stories. Stories, of great warriors and leaders, of wisdom, of culture, and of reverence for the earth. The land also holds stories of a long history of injustice, genocide, and trauma linked to colonization, and the extraction of non-renewable resources for the purpose of industrialization.
Today, as an unprecedented number of Tribes gather in solidarity in North Dakota, as protectors of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, and the earth and waters (our common heritage); a new story is being written. However, we must also make note that the demonstrated leadership of Tribal Nations extends beyond the front lines of non-violent direct action.
Tribal Nations are deeply engaged at the community-based level to address the perils of climate change. Tribal governments, community-based organizations, schools, and individuals are committed to exemplary solutions-based innovation, and policies related to housing, food sovereignty, education, and renewable energy. Examples of this community-based leadership can be found in tribal communities across the United States. Most recently it was demonstrated at a small teacher workshop at the Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
In Aug of 2016 the Red Cloud Indian School in collaboration with Trees, Water & People, We Share Solar, and Lakota Solar Enterprises held a teacher curriculum workshop as part of their paid continuing education and 2016-17 school year preparation. The We Share Solar Education Program curriculum developed by WE CARE Solar is centered around the hands on construction of a small portable solar electric system to provide basic lighting and charging for small electronics. The curriculum has four major components: 1) innovative solar energy technology 2) integrated mathematics for application of energy systems 3) engineering and 4) global energy use.
The curriculum is designed to help educators engage middle, and high school students in project based Solar Energy curriculum to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills, solar energy knowledge, and awareness of sustainable development.
Katie Montez, a science teacher at the Red Cloud Indian School, says, “Solar suitcases not only mesh smoothly with existing science curriculum but also invite the incorporation of other subjects, it is innately interdisciplinary. This curriculum is made with the student, educator, and community in mind. I feel very supported by this curriculum and its accessibility, as well as its dynamic nature.”
Indeed, the beauty of this curriculum is that it a guide for teachers, to not only introduce basic principles and components of solar electricity but to serve as a platform to develop and layer other subjects within the curriculum. The hope is that teachers and communities will take the curriculum and make it their own by incorporating history, art, language and story that provides relevance, and guides students toward the best use of technology at the community-based level.
The We Share Solar Suitcase will undoubtedly prepare students with a foundation of knowledge and skills to prepare them for careers in Solar Energy. However, it is ultimately about inspiring youth with a sense of empowerment to help their own communities develop and meet their goals related to renewable energy and regenerative communities.
Workshop participant and Red Cloud Indian School physics teacher, Anne Conover, reflected, “An influx of youth who are knowledgeable and excited about solar energy has the potential to change the energy landscape during a time when tribal lands and sovereignty are threatened by non-renewable energy development.”
By virtue of being human, we are all stewards of the earth. We cannot protect the beauty and ecological diversity of the planet without honoring, and protecting the wisdom and cultural diversity to which is inextricably linked. The time is now for acknowledgment and healing of the United States’ long history of ecological destruction and cultural genocide related to non-renewable energy development, and failed educational policy.
In service to ecological and cultural prosperity, we must root deeply in community, and inspire innovation and empowerment for future generations. Together in solidarity, we have the fortitude, perseverance, and wisdom to create a new story of a regenerative and just world.
With a good heart, I take your hand (Cante wasteya nape ciyuzapelo).
To learn more about how the We Share Solar curriculum can help meet your tribe’s goals related to education and renewable energy, please contact Trees Water People’s Director of Tribal Programs; Richard Fox at Richard@treeswaterpeople.org
If you are interested in supporting tribal community-based efforts toward renewable energy education, please support Trees Water People and our work with tribal leaders, youth, and community-based organization. Donations can be directed to:
The views expressed here do not represent that of any one organization. They are solely those of Kristin Lester, a renewable energy professional, and advocate for social justice and ecological stewardship.
Special thanks to the following collaborators for their shared vision and support of the We Share Solar workshop at the Red Cloud Indian School: Richard Fox (Trees Water People), Hal Aronson, Gigi Goldman, and Linda Gaffney (We Share Solar), Clare Heurter (Red Cloud Indian School), Henry Red Cloud (Lakota Solar Enterprises), Johnny Weiss (Johnny Weiss Solar Consulting LLC) and the Wellemeyer family (Louise, John, James and Douglas).
Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE) and Trees, Water & People (TWP) are continuing our efforts to help Native American communities move towards energy independence. This week we are conducting a solar air heater workshop and installing ten solar air heating systems for the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe in northeast South Dakota. The training is teaching twelve tribal members about the uses of solar energy and how to install the energy saving solar heating systems. These solar heaters push the number of total systems the LSE/TWP team has built and installed for tribal families to more than 1,000 systems. Additionally, the vast majority of these systems made at the LSE manufacturing facility at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
It is also the first major installation of our new Off-Grid Solar Heaters, which now operate solely on solar power! Heat is provided even if the grid goes off, as it is apt to do all across Native American Reservations. After this training is completed, the tribe has discussed getting 21 more systems and will use their trained workforce to get them installed.
Next, LSE will be taking down the old defunct wind turbine tower at the Kili Radio Station on Pine Ridge. Friends will install a new 10 kW Bergey wind turbine there in September, and a bit later Henry and the LSE crew will install another 6 kW solar electric array. A few years ago LSE installed a 5 kW solar electric array there, as well as one of their solar air heaters. Together, this should reduce the Radio stationed huge electric and heating bills by more than half.
Training and demonstrations like these are possible because of you, our supporters! Your contribution helps build job skills for Native Americans while also reducing CO2 emissions. Please donate today to keep programs like these going into the future.
Today marks an important date on the calendar for indigenous communities around the world as the United Nations declares the International Day of the World´s Indigenous Peoples. This year, the Indigenous Peoples Day highlights the importance of education for indigenous communities worldwide.
For the international and national partners of Trees, Water & People (TWP) as well as the home office employees, every day is indigenous people´s day. Our tribal program in the US continues to break new ground on housing opportunities on the Pine Ridge Reservation, expand access to sustainable agriculture and improve food security, and work to reforest hillsides that have been decimated by fires and erosion. Our partnership with Henry Red Cloud has led to many educational opportunities for Native Americans over the years, such as business development courses, green job training, and sustainable building.
Internationally, with our partner Utz Ché in Guatemala, we are also working to provide education opportunities, training, and capacity building for indigenous communities. In our primary community of La Bendición, where we led two work tours last year, we continue to support training in beekeeping (two youth leaders attended an apiculture and permaculture workshop at the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute in San Lucas de Toliman).
La Bendición was founded in 2000 by two different indigenous communities that were displaced by the armed conflict in the 1990s in western Guatemala. They were relocated to an abandoned and defunct coffee plantation in the southeastern part of the country and were passed a bill for the value of the land, as assessed by the government. The discrepancy between the valuation of the land and what they received has characterized the next 16 years of their community’s existence. They have fought for dismissal of this over-inflated debt so they could get on with learning how to live separated from their ancestral land and people.
According to Oswaldo Mauricio, our primary coordinator with La Bendición and the director of Campesino exchanges for Utz Ché:
“The relationship between TWP, Utz Ché, and La Bendición contributes to an enhanced quality of life in many different ways. Together we improve the overall reforestation and conservation of the forests, protect the watersheds and the rivers, moderate the use of firewood and pressures on the forest, and help smallholder farmers diversify their parcels (productivity projects). All these activities are the primary focal point for the creation of better educational opportunities, both informal and formal. All of these developments help to ensure clean and healthy food production and consumption for the families of La Bendición.”
In addition to these efforts, our ongoing goal to build 500 clean cookstoves, in collaboration with Utz Ché and two Guatemalan improved cookstove producers, EcoComal and Doña Dora, is helping to train and educate other Utz Ché communities on the use and maintenance of the clean cookstoves. Your donation will allow indigenous communities in southern Guatemala to have access to these clean cookstoves, as well as the training they need to use and maintain them.
Traveling up to Pine Ridge Reservation for the very first time, I had a lot of questions. Statistics about poverty, living conditions, and health tumbled around my head; I could (and did) rattle them off to anyone who asked where I was going for the weekend. But at that point, I didn’t really know where I was going for the weekend. I didn’t even really know what I was doing when I got there.
When Richard, Trees, Water & People’s Executive Director, pulled up next to a newly built, sustainable Compressed Earth Block (CEB) house on the reservation and I hopped out, the latter question was quickly answered. I would be helping to clean, organize, and prepare the building for the open house the following day. More importantly, I would be part of giving the gift of a home. The three bedroom earthen block home features solar-heated floors and forced air, a PV system on the roof, and one happy family inside.
Very little is more rewarding than making others happy. Knowing that you created a safe, beautiful place for a family to spend their years, though, far surpasses that. Everyone at the open house could see the proof of that joy on the faces of the two most influential people on the project, Richard Fox and Henry Red Cloud, and we could feel it in their hearts.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Paul Shields, the recipient of the new CEB home. Paul worked tirelessly on the construction of the compressed earth block home and volunteered on many community-based projects on Pine Ridge. Paul’s efforts are not only for his children, but also to share the beauty of Lakota culture with his grandchildren. Though jobs on the reservation are hard to come by, Paul’s dedication to renewable energy and sustainable development exemplifies the inspiring work of the community to create a positive future for the next generation.
It was more than a privilege to be included in the occasion. I couldn’t begin to choose my favorite moment from the weekend. Would it be shaking hands with the new owners, or seeing tears in their eyes? Sharing laughs, meals, and work with the other volunteers or gaining a new perspective without even noticing? Maybe just taking in the scenery and the soul of a place I had never been.
The question of where I was going was perhaps both more and less easily answered than what I was doing. I was going to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I came back from a place filled with devastation and hope, injustice and integrity, and a deeply embedded history with courageous new beginnings.
If you would like to help programs and projects such as this, please donate today!
After a long winter, we at Trees, Water & People (TWP) are excited to begin the planting season on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This morning, we happily bid farewell to 15,000 Ponderosa Pine seedlings provided by the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery. These trees will help reforest areas burned by wildfires on Pine Ridge.
Planting the Ponderosas will sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gases, improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, reestablish wildlife habitat, and enhance ecosystem resiliency, while engaging Native Americans in the protection of their lands. One thousand of the seedlings were sent with special well wishes written on gardening stakes by the Earth Day patrons from TWP’s recent Earth Day event in Colorado with New Belgium Brewery and Topo Designs. The collaboration was a huge success and a whole lot of fun!
In addition to the trees, 1,000 veggie starters are also making the trip to South Dakota. The plants are destined for Solar Warrior Farm, an educational demonstration garden located at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Solar Warrior Farm produces native and traditional foods such as, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, corn, melons, peppers, carrots, and a variety of berries, all of which are harvested and distributed to local Lakota families.
Helping us plant all these trees and veggies is long-time supporter, Rob Beheady of BeHeady.com. Rob has been raising funds to plant trees with TWP for many years through the sale of his beautiful steel drums. We are so grateful to have his help and support!
If you would like to help us plant trees on the Pine Ridge Reservation, please make a donation to our Tribal Reforestation program.
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
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
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 email@example.com 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.”
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.
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!