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Henry Red Cloud: a solar warrior for native America

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“The house, the buffalo, renewable energy: I’m not into it to become a millionaire,” Red Cloud says. “I’m just here passing it on to the next generation like the grandfathers did for us. That way surely their prophecy is going to be realized.”

Red Cloud’s 16-month-old granddaughter is the seventh generation descended from Makhpiya Luta, or Chief Red Cloud, who negotiated the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which left 60 million acres of buffalo hunting grounds to the Great Sioux Nation – until Congress later whittled it into smaller reservation parcels.

“Our ancestors made a treaty with the US government,” Red Cloud recounts. But they also made “a pact with the Creator for seven generations” – hearkening to a well-known prophecy that they would suffer if they did not provide for their descendants’ future prosperity.

Red Cloud was raised by his grandparents. “You can get an education and you can live a comfortable life,” he remembers his grandfather saying, “but if you want to have a really good life, create some work for other people.”

To date, the Red Cloud Center has trained 84 people, most of whom have secured jobs based on the experience – a striking accomplishment given the staggering unemployment across Indian country.

Lakota Solar Enterprises has built and installed more than 1,200 small-scale individual solar heating systems. The heaters save low-income homeowners up to 30 percent on utility bills that, over the course of a freezing Northern Plains winter, can add up to more than $1,000.

The systems are Red Cloud’s own innovation: For two years, he fiddled with a 1970s design to come up with the $2,500 unit his business produces today.

“We’re using 21st century material and tweaking it Lakota-style,” he says.

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