Formerly known as the Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative, an indigenous-led nonprofit that aims to alleviate energy poverty, mitigate climate change and create thriving Native American communities using solar energy, the organization has been relaunched as the Indigenous Energy Initiative (IEI).
“Through the work of the Indigenized Energy Initiative, we are indigenizing – decolonizing – the deployment of renewable energy to address the social, economic, spiritual and environmental concerns of Indigenous peoples,” said Cody Two Bears, co-founder of IEI. “Our new name better reflects our mission: Indigenous people take back power.”
Unlike one-off solar projects, IEI focuses on a longer-term holistic and systems-based approach to eradicate poverty and unemployment in indigenous communities. Using regenerative solar and other renewable technologies, the mission of the Indigenized Energy Initiative is to eliminate the crippling effects of energy poverty on Native Americans and restore sovereignty and vitality to these communities.
“We want to give our tribes and tribesmen the knowledge, skills and clean alternative methods to produce energy,” said Otto Braided Hair, co-founder and executive director of IEI. “It’s important that our people bring about this change, that this effort is made by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people.”
IEI has gathered solar-powered indigenous leaders, Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe, founder of Red Cloud Renewable and Lakota Solar Enterprises; Braided Hair is a tribesman and traditional leader of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and co-founder of IEI and ecoCheyenne; Robert Blake, citizen of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe and founder of sun bear and Native Sun Community Power Development; and Two Bears is a Standing Rock Sioux tribesman, co-founder of Indigenized Energy Initiative, and founder of Indigenized Energy at Standing Rock.
“This initiative is not just about building solar projects. We are disrupting the broken fossil fuel energy system,” said Cheri Smith, founder of IEI. “This is economic development with a very large human impact.”
Specifically, IEI provides technical assistance and equips tribes with the resources, knowledge and skills to:
- Design, build, manage and maintain tribal and tribal owned power systems;
- Developing residential, commercial and utility scale solar projects
- Train tribesmen for high paying jobs building and maintaining solar systems
- Provide equitable loans and grants for clean energy development and energy storage
- Work with strategic partners to reduce costs
- Setting up tribal utilities
IEI sees the development of solar energy for the tribes in the Northern Plains as a way to mitigate the long-term impacts of fossil fuels, enhance tribal self-determination through workforce development, and achieve energy independence from non-indigenous utilities.
“Indigenized Energy Initiative uses solar energy as a tool to transform entire economic, environmental and social systems in some of the most marginalized and underserved communities in the country, while meeting our commitments to protect and conserve the Earth. This is the new way to honor the old ways,” said Chief Red Cloud, Indigenized Energy Initiative advisory board member.
Red Cloud and IEI Director of Training, Daniel East, who built the solar training infrastructure for SolarCity and Tesla Energy, have tailored training courses for their Native American students called “Solar Warrior Interns.”
“Energy is a trillion-dollar industry,” said Bob Blake, a member of the Indigenized Energy Initiative advisory board. “Renewable energy development represents a path out of poverty for Native American tribes that is consistent with our cultural values. Tribal communities can take charge of 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 for sale on the grid. Instead of divisive pipelines like DAPL, Line 3 and coal mines destroying our homelands, tribal utilities can provide a positive, indigenous-led way forward. We have an opportunity to help build the future instead of continuing the methods of the past.”
News release from Indigenous Energized Initiative