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Combating climate change one tree at a time; Lakota Solar Enterprises leads reservation reforestation efforts


Throughout the month of May hundreds of volunteers are planting thousands of baby trees in an effort to combat climate change and to return Native lands to their original state.

Years of mismanagement

“Hundreds of years ago, this was all forest. This was all forest country, pine country. And over the past hundred years it’s been mismanaged. Today we’re taking control of the future and we’re planting much needed forests. We’re bringing the earth back,” says Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises on Pine Ridge.

Lakota Solar Enterprises and another nonprofit organization, Trees, Water & People of Fort Collins, Colorado, are collaborating on the project.

“We believe that when local people are managing their natural resources that they’re going to be better protected than any other way,” says Trees, Water & People executive director Richard Fox.

According to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy web site (a project of Lakota Solar Enterprises) under federal management of tribal lands, “Things like tree planting were just not a high enough priority to get funded and, as a result, the tree cover has slowly, but steadily declined after many decades of neglect.”

Replanting efforts

As of May 3, a push is currently underway to plant new trees on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Volunteers worked for about two weeks at the beginning of the month to get it done. Reforestation efforts concentrated around the Pine Ridge reservation where fire ravaged the local ecosystem and on the sacred vision questing lands of Bear Butte, South Dakota.

Additionally, the groups planted 202,000 trees for Arbor Day at the end of April and 2,000 trees in honor of Mother’s Day in May. Trees were planted in honor of Lakota matriarchs of the past, present and future.

This is the seventh year reforestation efforts have worked towards rebuilding local tree populations Since 2015 the organizations have planted thousands of trees across South Dakota. Through their combined efforts they planted 10,000 Ponderosa Pine seedlings in 2015 and 17,000 seedlings in 2016. From 2017 to 2020 roughly 209,000 trees and shrubs were planted.

In 2020 they planted 132,000 Ponderosa pines, 3,000 cottonwoods, and 1,050 food forest bushes. By the end of the 2021 a total of 500,000 trees, shrubs and berry-bearing bushes will have been successfully replanted. 

Typically, newly planted seedlings have a 95% survival rate. Says Fox, “You’ve got to understand that a tree is mighty. A tree is powerful. A tree will stand up against the elements. But these are babies. Babies are not like that. Babies have to be cared for.”

Focus on Bear Butte

Red Cloud announced an upcoming event at Bear Butte, a reforestation project to be held during Memorial Day weekend. Camp will be established on Thursday, May 20. Trees will be planted around the area throughout the holiday weekend.

Bear Butte has been used as a sacred site by Lakota people and several other tribes for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Combatting climate change in Indian Country

Damage caused by fossil fuel usage over the past century can be significantly reversed through easy changes such as reforestation right here in Indian Country. Conversations about “going green” and reducing the carbon footprints are growing here, across the nation, and abroad. The crisis requires calculated planning and hasty action to create tangible change.

Lakota Solar Enterprises is one of the many Native American-led non-profit organizations that actively educate and work with tribes around Indian Country. They seek to spark interest in climate change among Native American youth and to train leaders for the challenges ahead.

Lakota Solar Enterprises was established in 2008 by Henry Red Cloud and is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) was added later to expand access to green job training by experienced Indigenous trainers in Indigenous communities.

RCREC has hosted several workshops for tribal members to obtain hands-on experience in a multitude of alternative energy applications. They offer trainings in photovoltaic energy, solar heating systems, solar PV, geothermal water heating, and cellulose insulation.

Red Cloud urges folks in Indian Country to get involved to do their part to exercise Tribal sovereignty through the reduction of greenhouse gasses within their own communities and reservations. Red Cloud said, “We need to start managing and rebuilding our resources by beginning to lower our carbon footprint and rebuild our infrastructure.”

Additionally, the Solar Warrior Farm at the RCREC promotes local food and food sovereignty. The farm offers training in traditional foods and is launching a new program to identify locations where traditional foods already grow. The Lakota Forage Program will identify 10 acres lush with chokecherry, wild plum, buffalo berry trees and many other traditional foods.

Volunteer and give back

Volunteering is the greatest way to give back to the communities and the land.

To get involved or to inquire about upcoming trainings and events, contact Lakota Solar Enterprises at (605) 441-1140. Feel free to visit www.lakotasolarenterprises.org or www.redcloudrenewable.org. You can also email richard@redcloudrenewable.org.

Trees, Water & People provides opportunities to create positive impact through changemaking. They can be reached at (970) 484-3678 or at www.treeswaterpeople.org.

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