There is a revolution under way to bring renewable resources to Native American people. Led by modern-day warrior Henry Red Cloud, a direct fifth generation descendent of Red Cloud, the famous Lakota war chief, and Trees, Water & People (TWP), inroads are being made one home and one business at a time.
Count among its most recent advances a two-kilowatt photovoltaic array installed in October at KILI Radio, a public radio station serving the Lakota people of the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River and Rosebud reservations. The solar-power system was donated by Namasté Solar, while the manpower was provided by Red Cloud’s company, Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE) and his Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC). Count among the ranks of volunteers on site for the installation seven students from the Shoshone Bannock, Oglala Lakota, Cheyenne River Sioux, and Northern Cheyenne tribes—solar warriors in training at the RCREC.
Ground zero for this revolution is the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, home to more than 28,000 Oglala Sioux. Here, where housing is scarce and jobs scarcer—and where more than 90 percent of the people live below the federal poverty level—winters are long and almost always brutally frigid. Those fortunate enough to keep warm typically use propane, and they pay dearly for it, with bills often running to more than $400 a month. Red Cloud sees green power not only as a way to reduce home heating costs, but as a way to lead his people out of economic despair. “Last year, more than copy million was spent on propane and electricity to keep our members warm. We can take that money and turn it around, start some businesses,” he says.
Born in 1960 and raised by his grandparents, Red Cloud spent 16 years off the reservation. He returned to Pine Ridge in 1992 with the hope of finding a job and housing. He found neither. Although he could have turned around and gone back to what he was doing, which was structural steel at construction sites around the country, he decided to stay and work toward fulfilling a dream. While working in construction, he had been exposed to natural (sustainable) building and renewable energy methods and technologies. Always attuned to the connection between his people and nature, he was drawn to them. In fact, he had such a strong desire to learn everything he could that he frequently volunteered at natural building and renewable energy project sites throughout the Southwest. He says this led to a vision of a renewable-energy training facility in Indian country.