The history of Native Americans, especially those of the Great Plains, is a litany of forced movement and marginalization stretching over 200 years. As a result, tribal reservation lands occupy some of harshest landscapes in the United States. Temperatures can range from over 110º F in the summer to -60º F in the winter. Much of the area is covered by treeless plains, constantly scoured by the strongest winds in the country. Heating homes in this climate is difficult and expensive even under the best circumstances. For tribal families living in poorly built homes, it can be an insurmountable challenge. Despite the scarcity of trees, wood stoves are often used to heat homes. Other choices – propane, kerosene, electricity or natural gas – are often prohibitively expensive or non-existent. They also pollute and deplete the natural environment, directly conflicting with traditional tribal culture, which has always promoted responsible stewardship of the Earth as a way of life.
A majority of the residents on Great Plains reservations live below the federal poverty level and unemployment can reach a staggering 85%. According to the Native American Renewable Energy Education Project, 94% of tribal representatives reported that energy problems on their lands are leading to “financial hardship”; while 88% said that energy problems are leading to “reduced quality of life” for people on reservations. Many tribal governments pay a portion or all of their members’ utility bills, and interest in the use of renewable energy as a solution to rising energy costs has grown considerably among these tribes. Thus, there is a very real and evolving need for better energy solutions on reservations, as desperately poor families struggle to fulfill even their most basic requirements for adequate shelter and heat.
The goal of the Tribal Renewable Energy Program is to provide sustainable, economically beneficial, environmentally sound and culturally appropriate energy solutions to Native Americans living on reservations. By educating about renewable energy and producing innovative solar heating systems for tribal homes, Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE) and Trees, Water & People (TWP) are saving families 20-30% on their monthly heating costs for up to 20 years, which enables them to purchase much needed medicine and food. Our heaters also prevent toxic pollutants from harming human health and the environment, greatly improving living conditions while combating global climate change through reduced energy use.
The presence of solar heating systems on reservations not only provides substantial economic and environmental advantages, but important cultural benefits as well. In recent times, a movement has emerged which strives to reestablish the connection of Native Americans to their natural environment. The harmony between nature and man is an important belief, but one that is slipping away due in part to harmful modern technologies that produce pollution and degrade the natural landscape. The use of safe, sustainable solar heating systems provides a new energy approach for Native Americans on reservations, allowing them to live with more dignity while maintaining their traditional balance with Mother Nature. See the full Report on Benefits.