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Jun 12, 2024

Solar Jobs Illuminate Opportunities on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

The Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center stands not merely as a collection of solar panels and structures but as a testament to the unwavering determination of the Oglala Lakota people toward self-sufficiency and progress.

By: Alicia Kelton

Remote Energy’s Co-founder Chris Brooks leads a solar training onsite at Red Cloud Renewable in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
(Credit: Adam Kurowski)

Against the backdrop of the vast Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where the winds whisper stories of resilience and the land echoes the trials and triumphs of a community, a beacon of hope emerges in the form of the Red Cloud Renewable energy center.

Nestled within this expansive landscape, this center stands not merely as a collection of solar panels and structures but as a testament to the unwavering determination of the Oglala Lakota people toward self-sufficiency and progress.

In the shadow of historical challenges, the presence of Red Cloud Renewable on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation marks a pivotal chapter — an assurance that energy independence is not just a dream but an imminent reality.

Through innovation, empowerment and a deep reverence for heritage, this center is spearheading a transformative journey towards a future where renewable energy powers not only homes but also the resurgence of hope and pride within the community.

For generations, the Oglala Lakota people have navigated a complex history marked by struggles for self-governance and the preservation of their rich heritage.

In the midst of socioeconomic hardships — where unemployment rates soar and access to basic necessities remains a challenge — this community has fiercely safeguarded its cultural identity.

However, amidst these trials, one formidable challenge looms large: the unyielding grip of energy dependency.

With utility costs burdening households already grappling with economic constraints, the quest for energy independence emerges as an indispensable aspiration.

Beyond mere access to power, it represents a beacon of self-reliance — a pivotal stride toward liberating the community from enduring cycles of hardship and a testament to their unwavering determination to shape their own destiny.

At the heart of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s transformative journey towards energy sovereignty stands the visionary figure of Henry Red Cloud.

In 2002, fueled by a passion for change and a dedication to his community, Red Cloud embarked on a pioneering endeavor. By crafting and distributing solar furnaces, he not only provided immediate relief from the pressing utility costs but kindled a spark of hope for a sustainable future.

This act of empowerment laid the groundwork for what would later flourish into the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Established in 2008, this center became a beacon of change, offering crucial solar education classes.

These classes, more than mere lessons on photovoltaics and renewable energy, serve as the cornerstone of progress for Native Americans. They don’t just impart technical knowledge; they embody a promise of opportunity, a pathway toward a future where renewable energy isn’t just a concept but a tangible resource within the grasp of the community.

Marie Kills Warrior, an Oglala Lakota native who is a senior project support at Renewable Energy Partners, Inc., stands as a shining example of hope and progress for the future of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Her remarkable journey in the world of solar energy mirrors the radiant progress that is illuminating opportunities for the community.

I asked her what it was like growing up on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She said, “Well, like most rez kids at that time, we played and ran around in the creeks out at North Route where we lived and in Kyle. Swam and fished at Kyle Dam, Yellow Bear, and the river. Played basketball at the courts and on Sesame Street.

“We spent a lot of time outside during the spring, summer and fall months. My cousins would take us to pick buffalo berries, chokecherries and plums. They would also take us out to timpsila [wild turnip] hunting behind the hills by our house. You can say we made the best out of what we had.”

Her solar odyssey began in 2017 during an Earth Day event, where the potential of solar energy ignited a spark within her. This initial curiosity transformed into a passionate pursuit of knowledge, leading her to Denver, Colorado, to join the Grid Alternatives SolarCorps program.

Her journey is not just about personal growth; it’s about lighting the way for others. She actively participated in the Tribal Train The Trainer (T4) program, preparing to teach and share the power of PV 101 with others.

“I want to give back the same opportunity that was presented to me to other individuals in their homelands,” she told me.

Her dedication to education and her vision for a future where Indigenous communities have greater access to renewables radiate hope. Her aspirations extend beyond her own backyard, envisioning a South Dakota that embraces renewable energy as a net metering state or as part of a coalition that changes the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act rates.

Her mission is clear: to empower her community and others to harness the limitless potential of solar energy. Through her unwavering dedication, the future shines brighter on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where solar jobs are indeed illuminating opportunities and inspiring a sustainable path forward.

In the heart of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where resilience has been tested by enduring challenges, a compelling narrative of hope, innovation, and empowerment unfolds.

Marie Kills Warrior’s journey, intertwined with the Red Cloud Renewable energy center and the burgeoning solar job opportunities on the reservation, epitomizes the essence of this transformative path.

She embodies the hope and promise of Pine Ridge, while Henry Red Cloud stands as the bedrock upon which this visionary future is built.

The radiant progress propelled by the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and the visionary leadership of figures like Marie Kills Warrior and Henry Red Cloud serve as a beacon of hope.

This narrative not only signifies their unwavering spirit in the quest for energy independence but also emphasizes that renewable energy is a catalyst for positive change, illuminating opportunities and forging a sustainable path forward. In Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s heart, the future gleams with solar-powered promise, guided by the determination of its people.

Note: The American Solar Energy Society has been grant-writing to augment the fantastic work of Red Cloud Renewable in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, which is training Native American solar professionals and deploying solar to tribal people.

This article was originally published in Solar Today magazine and is republished with permission.

Alicia Kelton
Red Cloud Renewable

Alicia Kelton is the head of the Communications Department at Red Cloud Renewable, collaborating closely with Henry Red Cloud. Her role has been immersed in championing the cause of solar energy. She received an associate’s degree in psychology from Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington, Indiana.

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