Making a House a Home for a Lakota Family

by Adelle McDaniel, National Intern

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.

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Community members blessing the new home in a drum circle.

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.

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Henry Red Cloud (left) welcoming the Shields Family with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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.

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Adelle McDaniel playing with the kids during the open house.

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! 

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15,000 Trees Have a New Home

This year’s planting season has been a great success so far! With the 15,000 ponderosa pines in the ground, thanks to the hard work of 39 Native Americans, Trees, Water & People (TWP) has beaten our previous year’s planting by 5,000 trees – and that’s just the start! For 2016, our goal is to plant 17,000, however, we wiped out the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery’s supply of ponderosas with our 15,000 order! So, we will be patiently waiting for the remaining 2,000 trees to sprout. This is all part of TWP’s goal to plant 1 million trees on tribal lands over the next several years.

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The planting crew gearing up to plant 15,000 ponderosa seedlings.

TWP’s Tribal Reforestation project came about a few years ago in response to several wildfires that severely impacted Tribal lands in southern South Dakota. It is estimated that 20,000 acres of ponderosa forests were lost, with very few seed trees surviving to naturally replant the forest. That’s why we’re working to help put the “pine” back in Pine Ridge! Planting the ponderosas will improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, re-establish wildlife habitat, enhance ecosystem resiliency, and sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gases all while engaging Native Americans in the protection of their lands.

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Putting the “pine” back in Pine Ridge!

There to capture all the action on film was a videographer from Vision Makers Media. This Native-operated filmmaking organization empowers and engages Native Peoples to tell stories. They envision a world changed and healed by understanding Native stories and the public conversations they generate. We’re excited to be teaming up with Vision Makers Media to show you the progress of our reforestation efforts. With their 40 years of experience, we know you will enjoy the captivating footage of the scenic plains. Stay tuned for the video in the coming months!

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The tree planting dream team!

If you would like to help us plant trees on the Pine Ridge and Rose Bud Reservations, please make a donation to our Tribal Reforestation program.

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Spring has Sprung with 15,000 Trees!

by Molly Geppert, Marketing Manager

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!

 

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Earth Day patrons wrote well wishes on garden stakes to be planted with their donated trees at New Belgium Brewery.

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.

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15,000 Ponderosa Pines and 1,000 veggie starters safely stowed for the trip to Pine Ridge.

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!

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Sending off the trees with the well wishes from the Colorado Earth Day event. (Pictured from left to right: Richard Fox, Amanda Haggerty, Molly Geppert, and Rob Beheady)

If you would like to help us plant trees on the Pine Ridge Reservation, please make a donation to our Tribal Reforestation program.

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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

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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

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

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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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Trees, Water & People’s 2015 Impact Report

Thank you to our generous friends and donors who helped make 2015 a great year! Working closely with our local partners, community members, and volunteers, we were able to continue important conservation work throughout Central America, Haiti, and on tribal lands in the United States that benefit people and the planet.

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To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s community-based conservation projects please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org. Cheers to a productive and green 2016!

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

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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.