Native Solar Leaders Launch Indigenized Energy Initiative

Indigenous solar pioneers come together in support of this first-of-its-kind effort to empower tribes to achieve energy independence and regain sovereignty


STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION, N.D. – Indigenized Energy Initiative (IEI), the Native-led nonprofit that aims to diminish energy poverty, mitigate climate change, and create thriving American Indian communities with the clean and regenerative power of solar, has announced its relaunch as Indigenized Energy Initiative. It was formerly known as Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative. IEI is bringing together for the first time renowned Indigenous solar leaders Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe, founder of Red Cloud Renewable and Lakota Solar EnterprisesOtto Braided Hair, tribal member and traditional leader of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and co-founder of IEI and ecoCheyenne; Robert Blake, tribal citizen of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, and founder of Solar Bear and Native Sun Community Power Development; and Cody Two Bears, Standing Rock Sioux tribal member, co-founder of Indigenized Energy Initiative, and founder of Indigenized Energy at Standing Rock. The announcement, which kicks off Native American Heritage Month, marks a historic moment for these tribal communities as they band together as they have at other times throughout history, this time to diminish energy poverty, mitigate climate change, and create thriving American Indian communities with the power of solar energy.

Indigenizing Energy Sovereignty

“Through the work of Indigenized Energy Initiative, we are indigenizing — decolonizing — the deployment of renewable energy to address the social, economic, spiritual, and environmental concerns of Native people,” said Cody Two Bears, co-founder of IEI. “Our new name better reflects our mission — Native people are taking back the power.”  Unlike one-off solar projects, IEI focuses on the long view, taking a holistic and systems-based approach to eradicating poverty and joblessness in Native communities. Using regenerative solar and other renewable technologies, the mission of Indigenized Energy Initiative is to eliminate the crippling effects of energy poverty on Native Americans, restoring sovereignty, vitality, and a sense of hope.

“We want to empower our tribes and tribal members with the knowledge, skills, and clean alternative methods to produce energy,” said Otto Braided Hair, co-founder and executive director of Indigenized Energy Initiative. “It is important our people bring about this change, that this effort is made by Native people, for Native people.”

“Indigenized Energy Initiative leverages solar energy as a tool to transform entire economic, ecological, and social systems in some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged communities in the country while upholding our commitments to protect and preserve the Earth. This is the new way of honoring the old ways,” said Chief Henry Red Cloud, advisory board member of Indigenized Energy Initiative whose two decades of effort to bring renewable energy to tribal lands has been recognized nationally and internationally.  Red Cloud and IEI Director of Training Daniel East, who built the solar training infrastructure for SolarCity and Tesla Energy, have created training courses custom tailored for their Native American students, dubbed Solar Warrior Trainees.

“Energy is a trillion dollar industry,” said Bob Blake, advisory board member of Indigenized Energy Initiative. “Renewable energy development represents a pathway out of poverty for Native American tribes that is in line with our cultural values. Tribal communities can lead the charge on the just transition principles through the development of tribal utility commissions that work directly with public utility commissions to generate power from renewable energy — both for our own tribal communities and to sell on the grid. Instead of divisive pipelines like DAPL, Line 3 and coal mining destroying our homelands, tribal utilities can offer a positive, Native-led path forward. We have a chance to help build the future rather than continuing the methods of the past.”

IEI’s systems-based methodology weaves expertise in policy, economic development, workforce development, solar technology, and system operations to build the capacity of tribes to eliminate energy poverty in their communities and restore self-determination. Specifically, IEI provides technical assistance and equips tribes with the resources, knowledge, and skills to:

  • Design, build, operate, and maintain tribal- and tribal-member-owned energy systems
  • Develop residential-, commercial-, and utility-scale solar projects
  • Train tribal members for well-paying jobs building and maintaining solar systems
  • Secure equitable loans and grants for the development of clean energy and energy storage
  • Engage with strategic partners to reduce costs
  • Establish tribal utilities

For tribes of the Northern Plains and beyond, the switch to solar power will mitigate the long-term impacts of fossil fuels, and is also a way to strengthen tribal self-determination through workforce development and energy independence from often exploitative, non-Native-run utilities. “This initiative isn’t just about building solar projects. We are disrupting the broken fossil fuel-based energy system,” says IEI founder, Cheri Smith. “This is economic development with really high human impact.”

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