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Covenant Solar Initiative (CSI), a project of Earth Island Institute, is pleased to announce a charitable contribution in the amount of $200,000 from Pazala, the family foundation of Zep Solar co-founders Christina and Jack West, to launch a first-of-its-kind effort on the Northern Cheyenne and Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservations. The Wests are supporting CSI at a time when investment in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is critical to solving some of the most pressing issues faced by Native Americans.

Photo credit: Cheri Smith

“Jack and Christina are visionary, both as solar technologists and philanthropists. We are tremendously grateful for their financial support, and recognition of the urgency of our mission to eliminate poverty, diminish climate change, and create thriving Indigenous communities with the clean and regenerative power of solar,” said CSI founder Cheri Smith. “Their leadership gift funds the second phase of our efforts to assist American Indian tribes in building the capacity to plan, develop, and manage solar energy resources for themselves.”

“Covenant Solar Initiative’s mission to support Native American communities with industry knowledge and training in the business and construction of solar energy resonates with positivity for so many reasons” said Christina West, executive director of Pazala Foundation. “The Initiative is building a foundation of energy sovereignty and security while creating jobs and new businesses within Indigenous communities, reducing climate change, reducing local pollution, promoting community action, and fostering relationships between the tribes and the solar industry, utilities, regulating agencies, and research centers. We are honored to partner with CSI.”

Disproportionately high electric rates and discriminatory utility practices exacerbate the deep poverty and many hardships commonly experienced on American Indian reservations. Globally, solar energy has the potential for significant positive effects on economic, social, and ecological systems. In American Indian communities — where a smaller electric bill means more money for food, medicine, and other essentials — solar makes an exponentially greater impact.

“For eons, my people were self-reliant. The earth provided for all of our needs. The devastating effects of colonization, westward expansion, manifest destiny, and the deliberate extermination of the buffalo by colonists stripped us of our ability to provide for ourselves, causing us to be reliant on outsiders for our survival,” said Otto Braided Hair, Executive Director of CSI. “The success of this Initiative means the regenerative results of solar energy deployment will ignite a systems-level change in the economic and social conditions in our Native communities, leading to a restoration of our self-reliance. And of hope.”

Covenant Solar Initiative aims to disrupt the devastating cycle of energy poverty, for as many Native Americans as possible. The team is comprised of Native, educational, and community development leaders, along with some of the nation’s foremost experts in solar technology, education, energy policy, and finance, hailing from industry luminaries such as Tesla, SolarCity, and Sunrun. Leveraging U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funding, philanthropic donations, and impact investment, CSI’s scope of work for 2021 includes the development of residential, commercial and utility-scale projects totaling more than 3 MW on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, and more on Standing Rock.

“CSI serves as a catalyst, recognizing that it isn’t enough to just import a bunch of experts to solve a tribal community’s problems for them. To effect the type of systemic change necessary to eradicate energy poverty, in a way that supports and honors the customs, traditions and belief systems of Native Americans, experts and Indigenous people must work shoulder-to-shoulder, learning as well as teaching,” said Smith.

“The Covenant approach builds the capabilities of tribal members to participate in all facets of solar energy development, lays the groundwork for future projects, and, most importantly, is a viable means to induce a return to self-sufficiency for Native people,” said West.

While many tribes such as the Northern Cheyenne and Standing Rock Sioux have stood bravely in the destructive path of fossil fuel development, few possess the capabilities to pursue solar energy development in a way that maximizes its effects in their communities. Through its sub-project, Indigenized Energy, founded and led by Cody Two Bears, CSI will expand existing programs at Standing Rock, including the first and largest solar array in North Dakota, built in the wake of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests.

“With our success as an example, CSI will serve as inspiration for other tribes who seek to transition away from destructive fossil fueled energy. They can join in this effort, and establish the organizational readiness and skilled workforce they need to pursue solar energy development, form tribal-led cooperative utilities, and ultimately achieve energy independence,” said Two Bears.

News item from CSI


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