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Native Sun News: Lakota man brings solar power to the people

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Summer schoolers learned the basics of solar photovoltaic panel construction during a visit to Lakota Solar Enterprises’ Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Photo from Red Cloud Indian School

Bringing power to the people
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

PINE RIDGE –– Access to solar power – and control over rising utility bills – became dreams closer to every family’s reality in late June with the announcement of free skills training sessions in renewable energy installations provided by Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE) and Dakota Rural Action.

During the last two weeks of summer school, which ended June 26, fourth- and fifth-graders had a field trip to LSE’s Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and took part in the hands-on construction of photovoltaic panels that convert the sun’s rays into electricity.

The students from Red Cloud Indian School heard what LSE founder and Oglala Lakota tribal member Henry Red Cloud had to say: “We believe that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is important. And on tribal lands, it is imperative.

“There is a very real and evolving need for better energy solutions on reservations, as desperately poor families struggle to fulfill even their most basic requirements for adequate shelter and heat,” he says.

Dakota Rural Action (DRA), a statewide non-profit organization, broadened the outreach to people across South Dakota who want to take advantage of the savings and environmental benefits of switching to solar, announcing the July launch of a new grassroots public awareness and action campaign called Solarize SD: Energy for a Brighter Future.

The project was conceived by members of Dakota Rural Action in partnership with solar energy industry businesses GenPro, Eco Works SD, and Williams Power Systems.

“We’ve been meeting, phone conferencing, researching and planning for months and we’re thrilled to be ready to share this program now,” says DRA Chair Don Kelley of Nemo. He and his wife Kim already have installed a solar array at their off-grid home in the Black Hills.

The intent of the campaign is to inspire other “homeowners, renters, farmers and ranchers to learn more about their electricity use, how to easily end waste of energy to help the budget as well as the planet, and how to generate and use more renewable energy,” the organization said in a media release July 1.

Information will be available July 4 from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Flatiron Historic Sandstone Inn Market in Hot Springs, during the Fall River Fourth Celebration Parade. Materials will be distributed throughout the summer at other farmers markets, at county fairs and community events, and through social media at Solarize South Dakota.

Solarize SD aims to help South Dakotans replace old-fashioned light bulbs with LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. The campaign will help hundreds of people do their own analysis of their home electricity use. It also will provide 100 energy consultations by trained volunteer DRA energy consultants, whose goal is to secure at least 25 families committed to investing in solar in the next four months.

“We are so excited about Solarize SD,” says Barb Sogn-Frank, who has been trained through Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Solar Training Academy to become one of the campaign’s energy consultants.

“We haven’t even launched the program yet and already we’ve had 30 people ask for information about how to get an energy consultation and how to find out more about solar power. South Dakota is ready to transition to a new energy economy, and we’re excited to make that happen.”

People interested in solar who would like an energy consultation can email or call (605)939-0527.

Lakota Solar Enterprises is standing by to help with its Energy Independence Initiative. The program offers training and provides job skills in solar furnace installation, family-scale solar PV systems, solar hot water heat systems, solar water pump systems for home and garden, mobile renewable energy power stations for hunting, pow-wows, ceremonies, and camping.

Native Americans from around the country come to the LSE’s Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center campus to receive hands-on courses in renewable energy applications from fellow Native American trainers.

More than 450 students have gone through the training program. Many now have jobs in the renewable energy sector. A few of Red Cloud’s students have started their own businesses, carrying on the mission of Lakota Solar.

LSE currently employees nine full-time local workers and has manufactured more than 4,000 solar units.

Its success earned Red Cloud a 2015 award as one of the 100 “Most Creative People in Business,” from, a promoter of innovative enterprise.

When he received the recognition, Red Cloud told the sponsor that his 11-year-old business was the only Native American renewable energy manufacturer in the country until two years ago. “I could have made several million dollars, but that’s not what it was about. It was about sharing and helping other native communities,” he said.

RCREC’s facilities include demonstration solar air furnaces, a solar electric system, straw bale home construction, a wind turbine, green houses and gardens, buffalo from the Red Cloud herd, wind breaks and shade trees.

The gardens, dubbed Solar Warrior Farm, will be the focus July 9-12 of an Indigenous Food Sovereignty Workshop. Hopi-Dineh permaculturist Shannon Francis is slated to lead students through the first steps of planning for growing food at home with an Indigenous perspective.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has only one grocery store to serve the entire 11,000 mile area, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. LSE’s Food Sovereignty Program works to improve the quality of life increasing access to healthy organic food.

Its gardens produce 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.

It is also a community gathering space where knowledge can be passed from elders and mentors by way of simple gardening techniques and sharing of stories.

On Aug. 10-12, the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center has scheduled a compressed earth building block workshop for people to learn how to test, select and make environmentally friendly and energy efficient, low-cost, local construction materials.

According to plans, that workshop will be followed immediately on Aug. 12 and 14, with a session on finishing, roofing and insulating a compressed earth block (CEB) home.

Scholarships are offered for all the workshops, and volunteer opportunities to help construct a CEB home for a Pine Ridge resident will be available throughout the summer. Contact John Motley, TWP Assistant National Director for information on the CEB workshops at

To learn more, contact Jamie Folsom, the national director of Trees, Water & People, a non-profit based in Ft. Collins, Colorado, which partners with LSE to make the training possible: or (970)484-3678 ext.23.

(Contact Talli Nauman, NSN Health and Environment Editor at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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