Henry Red Cloud: a solar warrior for native America
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.
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.”Skip to next paragraph
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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.
IN PICTURES: Harnessing the sun's energy
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.
“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.