Volunteer Voices: A Bittersweet Trip to Pine Ridge

by Gemara Gifford, TWP Intern and CSU Alum

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

CSU Alt. Break trip 2016
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

Gem pic from CSU Pine Ridge2016
CSU Alternative Break students and TWP intern, Gem (far left) at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC). Photo by Gemara Gifford

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 molly@treeswaterpeople.org 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.

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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!

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!

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.

Project Update: Solar Women Warriors Scholarship Fund

Gail and Jamie
Gail Hubbeling (left) and Jamie Folsom at the Compressed Earth Block training.

We are excited to report that the women who were awarded the Solar Women Warriors Scholarships have completed their training with us and have utilized these funds to learn important new skills in renewable energy and sustainable building.

We were delayed by weather in October of 2013, when the first Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Training was originally scheduled to take place. However, we were able to reschedule the training for May 18-24, 2014 and it ended up being a great success! Alison Goings, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and Gail Hubbeling, a member of the Ihanktowan (Dakota) Tribe and also a veteran of the U.S. military, both attended the training on scholarships funded by Catapult.org. The women learned how to build a home using a compressed earth block machine, which produces blocks that are affordable and very energy efficient.

In addition to these two scholarships, we awarded a third Solar Women Warrior Scholarship to Robin Davis, a member of the White Earth Tribe. Robin attended one of our Solar Air Heater workshops held on the White Earth Reservation. After learning how to install solar heaters onto a home, Robin and the other trainees were employed by the White Earth Tribe to install 10 heaters for families in need. These heaters save families up to 30% on their monthly utility bills for 25 years, greatly decreasing household expenses using clean energy from the sun.

Get personal

“I’ve been interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy for sometime now. I want to share this knowledge with our Native communities along with the Housing Authority. Housing is the one shortage we need to overcome.” – Gail Hubbeling, Scholarship Recipient

Risks and challenges

Our biggest challenge with this project was the weather! We had no problem finding Native American women eager to attend our workshops; our main challenge was dealing with freak storms that delayed holding the workshops. We had originally planned to have the Compressed Earth Block training in October of 2014 but Mother Nature was not having it. A huge snow storm hit the Pine Ridge Reservation, causing us to postpone the workshop.

What we’ve learned

GRID Alternatives solar energy trainingWe’ve learned that beyond green job training, we need to also focus on helping trainees find meaningful employment opportunities, where they can utilize the skills they have gained. This is why we started the Green Business Development Program in 2013. This program helps Native entrepreneurs develop and implement viable green business plans within the reservation context, which is a much more challenging economic situation. In addition, we are also continuing to work closely with tribes, such as White Earth, to create jobs for trainees after they complete our workshops. Many tribes have access to Federal funds for renewable energy and economic development that can be used to employ their members in the green economy.

Next steps

We are now working with the women to offer more access to our workshops as well as an opportunity to apply to our Green Business Development Program. Our ultimate goal with this program is to see Native American women find jobs within the renewable energy and sustainable building sector, using the skills and experience gained from our workshops.

Volunteer Trip to Pine Ridge: Sept. 11-14

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Take this opportunity to travel to our Tribal Renewable Energy Program’s headquarters on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Although it is only a five hour drive from the Trees, Water & People office in Fort Collins, Colorado, a trip to Pine Ridge will offer volunteers an unforgettable cultural experience and an opportunity to help complete sustainable building projects at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC). Plus, we will be getting our hands dirty at Solar Warrior Farm! This is a wonderful way to give back, make new friends, and learn about the Lakota culture.

Volunteer Trip – Strawbales and Harvest Time

Where: Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD
When: Thursday, Sept. 11 – Sunday, Sept. 14
Who: Flexible volunteers who like adventure, hard work, lots of fun, and all kinds of weather. Volunteers 14-18 are welcome with adult companions.
Why: To help complete two of our strawbale demonstration houses, put a finish coat on the LSE office building and help bring in the harvest from the Solar Warrior Farm
Volunteers are invited to arrive any time on Thursday, Sept. 11. 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, Sept. 14 or stay longer and help us put a final coat on our strawbale houses and compressed earth block offices!

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 food you desire. We will send out a meal plan as the date comes near.
• TWP cooking equipment and utensils will be available for use.
• Volunteers will help in preparing all meals and with cleaning up afterwards.

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:
• Beds will be available for volunteers at the Sacred Earth Lodge. Camping is also a great option during this time of year1 Campers on the Red Cloud Renewable Energy campus must bring their own camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag and pad, etc.). Weather is unpredictable, so only those comfortable in the outdoors should camp.

Sacred Earth Lodge
Sacred Earth Lodge

To volunteer, please email the following information to Assistant National Director, 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 our 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 I have confirmed your spot, I will email you directions to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and provide you with additional details.

For more information and to register as a volunteer, please contact John Motley via email at john@treeswaterpeople.org or by phone at 970-484-3678.

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