Tribal Solar Projects Provide More Than Climate Solutions

Climate change is already affecting tribal communities across the U.S.—affecting the ability to gather traditional foods and medicines, drinking water quality in rural communities, and more. In places like Montana, climate change-driven warmer temperatures, drier soils, and reductions in snowpack may make fire season worse.

For tribes like those Covenant Solar works with, the switch to solar power is urgent to mitigate the long-term impacts of fossil fuels. But it is also a way to strengthen tribal self-determination through workforce development and energy independence from often exploitative, non-Native-run utilities. “We are disrupting the broken fossil fuel-based energy system,” says Covenant Solar founder Cheri Smith. “This is economic development with really high human impact.”

Both Northern Cheyenne and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where Covenant Solar works, are on the front lines of the fight for a renewable energy future to combat climate change. At Northern Cheyenne, the battle was against coal mining. In 2016, after years of organizing by community members—including by Vanessa Braided Hair, Covenant Solar’s advocacy and community engagement manager—Arch Resources (then called Arch Coal) withdrew its application to mine 1.3 billion tons of coal at Otter Creek, near the reservation.

At Standing Rock, the battle is against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, part of which runs under the Missouri River on the reservation. In summer 2016, thousands of activists, known as water protectors, gathered along the Cannonball River to protest construction of the pipeline. Oil began flowing in May 2017, though activists continue to call on President Biden to shut down DAPL. During the 2016 protests, Cody Two Bears, one of the co-founders of Covenant Solar, helped organize a fundraiser to get 300 kilowatts of solar power installed on the reservation. Today, Covenant Solar is using the solar panel purchased with donated funds as a demonstration project and training opportunity. Read full article on Yes!

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