The organization formerly known as the Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative, a Native-led nonprofit that aims to diminish energy poverty, mitigate climate change and create thriving American Indian communities with solar power, has been relaunched as the Indigenized Energy Initiative (IEI).
“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 is focusing on a longer 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 and vitality in these communities.
“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 IEI. “It is important our people bring about this change, that this effort is made by Native people, for Native people.”
IEI has gathered Indigenous solar leaders Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe, founder of Red Cloud Renewable and Lakota Solar Enterprises; Braided Hair is a 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 Two Bears is a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member, co-founder of Indigenized Energy Initiative and founder of Indigenized Energy at Standing Rock.
“This initiative isn’t just about building solar projects. We are disrupting the broken fossil fuel-based energy system,” said Cheri Smith, IEI founder. “This is economic development with really high human impact.”
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
IEI views solar development for the tribes in the Northern Plains as an avenue to mitigate long-term impacts from fossil fuels, strengthen tribal self-determination through workforce development and achieve energy independence from non-Native-run utilities.
“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 Red Cloud, advisory board member of Indigenized Energy Initiative.
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.”
News item from Indigenous Energized Initiative