Henry Red Cloud returned to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to found Lakota Solar Enterprises, which builds and installs solar-heating equipment that saves low-income families money on heating bills.
Photo by Dan Bihn
Henry Red Cloud’s address is 1001 Solar Warrior Road on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. But the road sign hasn’t arrived. A windmill towering over the cottonwoods in the draw of White Clay Creek marks the location of Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and his “Solar Warrior Community.”
It consists of a mud-and-straw-bale roundhouse for trainings, a whimsically painted Quonset hut factory for assembling solar air heaters, an array of solar panels from Germany, a horse trailer that doubles as a paper recycling center for making insulation, a vegetable garden, and a new concrete foundation for what will become a 20-person dormitory.
Here Red Cloud directs the work of Lakota Solar Enterprises, his American Indian-owned and operated business dedicated to providing renewable energy to some of the poorest communities in the United States.
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The business has been part of a journey home for the 52-year-old Oglala Lakota man. He left the reservation to join the civil rights movement in the 1970s, then found himself working construction, walking high steel in cities around the country.
But when he returned home, he faced the reality of few jobs and little housing. He crafted teepees and took volunteer training from Trees, Water & People, which later became his partner organization.
One night, trying to sleep in the back seat of his car, Red Cloud had the vision for Lakota Solar: training people right on the reservation to build and install solar heaters so they could study at home and support the extended family, or tiospaye. Later, he added a buffalo-ranching cooperative to the enterprise.