I was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Conditions are hard for Pine Ridge residents: more than 9o percent of people live below the poverty level and unemployment can reach higher than 85 percent. Many people struggle with diabetes or alcohol and drug addiction. Also, the climate is harsh, with some of the coldest winters and hottest summers in the country. Many of the houses are poorly built, with no phone service and inadequate water and plumbing systems. Despite the scarcity of trees, wood stoves are often used to heat homes. Other choices – propane, kerosene, electricity or natural gas – are expensive. Some families cannot afford them and must choose to go without other necessities or abandon their homes for the winter, staying with relatives.
In 1868, just 140 years ago, my great-grandfather, Chief Red Cloud, signed the Fort Laramie Treaty. This was a pact between the federal government and the seven generations of Lakota people to come. Chief Red Cloud said that at that time, all Native people would be living as equals with the white people. Now I look at my grandchildren, the seventh generation, and the challenges they are facing and I know we need a new vision for our future. The Lakota people still feel connected to a time when they were a self-sustaining nation, living in harmony with nature. All our ceremonies honor the forces of nature: the sun, wind, and rain. Many want to return to the time when nature supported us and we cared for the land.
I try to model myself after Chief Red Cloud and other Grandfathers, like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. My role as a Lakota Grandfather is to go out into the wider world, paying attention, and listening and learning with a wider view. I have found 21st century ways that fit with our traditions and can help us live more sustainably, making our lives better and also protecting our planet. Native Americans already have a deep understanding of natural forces and energies. By using energy from the sun and wind instead of fossil fuels, we can complete the circle of our ceremonies, honoring the old, but in new ways. I see myself as a twenty-first century Lakota Warrior, bringing social justice and economic development to Native American communities through renewable energy.