There are two very different ways of recognizing Earth Day In the Northern Plains and Washington, perhaps illustrating, what Native people call the choice between two paths, one well scorched and worn, the other green.
This past week, Henry Red Cloud, a descendent of Chief Red Cloud and President of Lakota Solar Enterprises, was recognized as a Champion of Change by President Obama for his leadership in renewable energy. Red Cloud’s work has included installation of over 1000 solar thermal heating units on houses in tribal communities across the Northern Plains. Those units can reduce heating bills by almost one quarter, and cost, less than $2000 to install. The solar thermal panels harken a future with less reliance on propane and fossil fuels, something which proved deadly this winter, as the price skyrocketed, and many homes spent at least that amount to heat.
Henry Red Cloud is one of many Lakota people who has been in DC this past month, and a large number of other Oglala tribal members will descend on Washington for the Cowboys Indians Alliance encampment against the Keystone XL pipeline. Henry Red Cloud sees solar energy as a way to “honor the old ways in the new times,” and address some of the fuel poverty which is rampant in northern plains and north woods first nations, in an era of petroleum, replacing natural fuels. Annually tribes are forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars of propane bills, to keep houses warm, and fuel poverty is when tribal members have to choose between heating or eating. “Last year, more than five million was spent on propane and electricity to keep our members warm,” Red Cloud explained. “We can take that money and turn it around, start some businesses.”
Solar thermal heat, not only keeps people warm, reducing the hemorrhage of fuel bills but it circulates money into a local economy. The solar panels are made on the reservation, and the Red Cloud Renewable Energy center near Oglala, on the reservation employs nine full time workers and several part time workers in the busy season. That is money helping a community and rebuilding infrastructure in that community.