Richard Fox, Co-Founder of Trees, Water & People
inourhands.love is proud to partner with Lakota Solar, Red Cloud Renewable, and Trees, Water & People to bring energy independence to the Pine Ridge community and beyond.
We're excited to share with you a story written by Richard Fox - Co-founder of Trees, Water & People.
I have been working with Native American tribes in South Dakota for the last 15 years. It has not been an easy journey. They have a long history of being abused and disrespected, so it can be difficult as a non-Native person to gain their trust and learn their ways.
In 1998, I was one of the founders of the non-profit organization, Trees, Water & People, which is based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Several of us had worked on international development projects for many years and by 2002, we had developed a solid history of successfully providing reforestation and renewable energy solutions and supporting ongoing programs in indigenous and non-indigenous communities in five Latin American countries. Through this work and work with earlier organizations, we understood the critically important need to involve and engage local people in all phases of the initial program design work, as well as having them fully involved and engaged in the implementation of program activities.
While we found our international work truly gratifying and empowering in many ways, we also wanted to make a difference here in the United States. Because of my background of working with Native Americans and their extreme poverty and many needs, we specifically decided to start our Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
In 2003, we began to assemble and install solar air furnaces as a means of improving living conditions at Pine Ridge, while simultaneously reducing the outrageously high heating bills that many Native families faced every winter. The solar furnaces were initially designed and became popular in the 1970’s, but had mostly been overlooked in recent years as people focused more on solar electricity and solar hot water systems.
To be really successful though, we knew we needed a local champion.
Luckily, Henry Red Cloud was already traveling on a parallel path of learning about renewable energy and wanting to bring it to tribal communities. While he grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Henry lived off the reservation for over a decade. When he returned home in 1992 he was struck by the despondency he found there, and has been working to provide hope to his people ever since. Driven by his desire to make a significant improvement in the life of each tribal family, Henry began to focus on residential-scale renewable energy options at the turn of the millennium.
"embracing renewable energy is a new way to honor the old way" -Henry Red Cloud
Henry is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and as fate would have it, he was driving by on the Pine Ridge Reservation one day where we were putting on a workshop on our solar furnaces. He immediately knew what they were and pulled over and attended the workshop. Soon after he began volunteering with us. Within a year, he was running our program and a powerful partnership was born that continues to this day.
Our solar furnaces reduce heating bills by as much as 30% and last up to 20 years generally without any necessary maintenance. They also cost a lot less than solar electric systems and we found our donors and Foundation friends were very supportive of this project and over the last 15 years we have manufactured and/or installed more than a thousand systems for Native America families, mostly in South Dakota.
Henry Red Cloud (Center Top) and collaborators
As for Henry, he is a direct descendent of Chief Red Cloud (Mahpiya Luta), the last war chief of the greater Sioux Nation and one of the most well-known and photographed Native Americans in all of history. Henry is also a tremendous leader and orator and I have traveled with him often doing scores of workshops, conferences, and events both here in the United States and in Europe as well.
In 2006, Henry established Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), one of the first 100% Native American-owned and operated renewable energy companies in the US. Henry and TWP co-created the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) in 2008, a one-of-a-kind educational center where tribes receive hands-on green job skills training. Here, he reminds trainees that embracing renewable energy is a new way to honor the old way and helps in their return to their traditional relationship with Mother Earth. In 2013, Henry opened the Sacred Earth Lodge, a residential training and guest lodging facility and in 2016, he founded his own non-profit organization, Red Cloud Renewable.
Henry’s philosophy of helping one family at a time not only improves lives, but it also protects our planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels. As a respected Lakota elder, he is a leader and role model who is inspiring enthusiasm for renewable energy in Native communities across the state of South Dakota and the Nation. Devoted to bringing social justice and economic development to Indian Country, Henry has become a national tribal leader on renewable energy and is indeed a tremendous champion who is helping tribes on their path to energy independence.
Henry’s efforts to bring sustainable energy solutions to Indian Country has earned him both national and international recognition. In 2009 for instance, Henry was named Innovative Idea Champion by the Corporation for Enterprise Development and shared his concept of renewable energy on tribal lands at the national 2009 Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C.
Henry received the 2010 Annual Innovation Award from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, as well as special recognition from the 2010 Nuclear Free Future Award. In 2012, he traveled to Vienna to receive the World Energy Globe Award in both the “Youth” and overall “World” categories. That year, the American Solar Energy Society honored Henry with the prestigious 2013 Charles Greeley Abbot Award for his significant social contribution to the field of solar energy.
Henry Red Cloud and Richard Fox
In 2014, he was selected by the White House as a Champion of Change for Solar Deployment. He also received the 2014 Berea College Service Award and the Oglala Lakota Service Award. In 2015, the head of the Democratic Party in South Dakota asked Henry to run for the open seat on the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a pivotal government agency that approves, or doesn’t approve, of pipelines in the state. While he did not win that election, it established him as a powerful candidate and statewide spokesperson.
In 2016, he was honored by the Red Cloud family to carry the pipe that was smoked at the 1868 Laramie Treaty by Mahpiya Luta into the headsmen council fire discussions at the Standing Rock Oceti Sakowin camp and speak on behalf of Mahpiya Luta. He also helped train and power up the camps during his seven visits there by providing two mobile solar power stations, 11 Off-Grid Solar Furnaces and many solar lights.
Today, Henry and I still work together. Our focus remains on educating Native Americans on a broad array of renewable energy applications. But we are also gearing up to provide significant support to the new post-Standing Rock water protector camps. Already we have built and delivered a solar mobile power station to one of three Keystone Pipeline camps we are supporting. We are also supporting the Line 3 Camp in Minnesota along with our good friend Winona LaDuke.
It is indeed a powerful time and I am honored to stand with my brother Henry Red Cloud and with thousands of our Native American students, friends and supporters who understand that we are all related and must stand up for Mother earth and against the greed and destruction of Big Oil and all those who care more about profits than our sustainability.