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Native American Programs

SEI's Native American program helps Native Americans meet their energy and housing needs with renewable energy and natural building.  SEI works with Native American groups and nonprofit organizations, training people from the Western Shoshone, Skull Valley Goshute, Lakota Sioux, Yurok, Zuni, Hopi, and Chippewa Nations in renewable energy technologies.




This past year SEI experienced significant increase in the interest for this program.  As a result, we completed several successful projects and were able to reach new communities with renewable energy education.  Through a variety of supporting services, SEI’s Native American program participated in five main projects including design consulting, training and installation.  In addition to project work, SEI also strengthened relationships with several program partners through collaborative efforts while continuing to expand the program reach by developing new partnerships and program resources.

In summary, the accomplishments of this program over the past year represent the continued determination of dedicated staff, contractors and volunteers to serve a tremendous need for renewable energy education and implementation for indigenous communities around the country.  The success of these projects has already led to additional opportunities as we move into 2014.  Continued growth and momentum for the program next year looks encouraging with the development of new program materials, curriculum, demonstrations and several promising project opportunities.  

Here are the highlights from this past year..............

Grid-tie PV Training in Pine Ridge, SD   SEI completed a 4-day training and installation class in collaboration with Lakota Solar Enterprise and Trees, Water & People.  This 4-day training was hosted at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center in Pine Ridge, SD (March 25-28).  Northern Cheyenne nation sent folks from their community to this training as part a larger effort to explore sustainable economic solutions to replace fossil fuel development on their lands.  In addition to this aspect, the World Wildlife Federation, who has been integral in supporting the Northern Cheyenne in their efforts to stop the Otter Creek coal mine, was able to get this effort included in a feature film being made by Avi Lewis regarding global climate change effects on indigenous people around the world and the potential solutions being explored.  SEI conducted a two day grid-tie class accompanied by two days installing a 1.4kW ground mounted system.  Students were able to work on all aspects of the installation and were excited to see the system they had built on operating on Thursday afternoon.  This project was funded through a Putnam Foundation grant. SEI also had several volunteers onsite.   See SEI blog for more information regarding this project.


Portable PV Power Trailer at Oglala Lakota Collge  Solar Energy International teamed up with the Oglala Lakota College’s construction program for three days of training and installation of a mobile, off grid solar system.  Seventeen students and three of the college’s instructors participated in the course.  At the end of the training the students had installed a fully functional solar powered mobile power system on their construction trailer.  The system will be used to provide power at community events, take solar education to the tribal schools, and provide power for the construction class during their work building houses on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  This project was funded through the DOE SITN program which works to support regional community colleges and vo-tech schools to start PV training programs.  See this link for more information on this project. 


Solar Water Pumping at the Solar Warrior Farm SEI partnered with Trees, Water & People and Lakota Solar Enterprise to host a week long workshop covering solar water pumping applications as well as the fundamentals of drip irrigation.  Expanding our partnership with these organizations, SEI spearheaded the design and installation of a solar water pumping system at the Henry Red Cloud Renewable Energy Training Center.  This water pumping system will be utilized by the “Solar Warrior Farm” to supply water from a local creek to satisfy the water needs of the greenhouse and garden area.  The greenhouse will supply plant starts for the garden and sharing with the community.  The production from the garden this summer enabled several hundred pounds of produce to be distributed among the Pine Ridge community.  In addition to these immediate benefits, this PV water pumping system also provides another demonstration and training system for the renewable energy training center here on Pine Ridge reservation.  This project was funded through the Putnam Foundation grant.  SEI also had several volunteers onsite for the project and received generous equipment donations from GenPro Energy Solutions.   


Continued Suppport for Past Projects  During the summer, SEI responded to a plea for help from a past project participant with urgent needs to move an existing stand-alone PV system to a new residence.  It was an elder woman, Carrie Dann, who originally received the system through a training and installation project with Honor The Earth in the spring of 2005.  Through our incredible instructor support network and a shoestring budget, we were able to make an expedited site visit to move the system equipment and collect information for a potential re-install at the new residence.  We are currently exploring the system installation possibilities which may include converting it to a grid-tie system.  The idea is to plan with Carrie and Honor The Earth to explore the best ways to move forward with the intention to complete the installation (and potential training) in 2014.  The site visit and equipment move was funded through SEI’s internal program budget.

Design Consulting  This past spring, SEI provided free consulting services for a potential project on Black Mesa of the Navajo reservation in Arizona.  Services included developing bid specifications, review of bid applications, and stand-alone PV system design.  This project was funded through volunteer time.      



In October of 2011 SEI staff traveled to northern Minnesota as part of our Native American Outreach Program to work with local electricians to help guide the installation of a 2.2kw grid-tie with battery backup PV system on the home of Winona Laduke. SEI also led a 2-day PV training for local native community members around this installation.

LaDuke is a member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation. She is the Founding Director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, a non-profit devoted to restoring the land-base and culture of the White Earth Anishinaabeg, and Honor the Earth, a Native-led organization established to address the two primary needs of the Native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change. The SEI led installation and training represents another milestone in Laduke’s effort to mobilize her community towards energy and food independence. It also represents the continued success of SEI’s Native American Outreach Program which has provided training and installation support for communities across America. SEI is grateful for the tremendous support we received from the Putnam Foundation, Direct Power & Water, REC Solar, AEE Solar, SMA America, Trojan Battery, Davidson Electric, and all those involved on the ground at White Earth, who helped make this project a success.


In 2008, Solar Energy International teamed up with Honor the Earth, a Native American environmental advocacy group, to successfully conduct a PV installation and training on the Skull Valley Goshute reservation. A year prior, the Skull Valley tribal members celebrated the successful defeat of a proposed nuclear waste storage facility on their reservation. The community feels the PV training, attended by Native Americans from four different tribes, is the beginning of a movement toward a new energy economy.


In coordination with Honor the Earth and the Western Shoshone Defense Project, SEI trained more than 20 Native Americans in PV installation in 2005. The participants installed a PV system to power the ranch home of Mary and Carrie Dann, two Western Shoshone grandmothers. The training was the first step toward the promotion of locally run energy systems and economic development for Native communities.

SEI also worked with Red Feather Development Group and Turtle Mountain Community College in North Dakota in 2005 on the construction of an Environmental Research Center on the tribal college's 100-acre Anishanaube Wellness Center. Tribal college students and staff worked together to design a load-bearing straw bale building with a range of sustainable components.


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