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Help Reforest the Indigenous West

by Trees Water & People
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
Help Reforest the Indigenous West
4 Generations of Tree Planters!
4 Generations of Tree Planters!

10,000 SW Douglas Fir tree seedlings from the San Juan Mountains have gone into the ground near the Tent Rocks National Monument on Santo Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo's Tribal Lands; the 3,000 remaining seedlings were taken to the Santa Fe Indian School by Cochiti tribal members where they will be planted by students and community leaders on nearby public lands. 

With the help of the Santo Domingo Pueblo War Chief and his lieutenant, we were able to recruit over 15 volunteers from the local tribe to gather last week to inaugurate and launch our first joint reforestation project! As we’ve reported previously, the “Las Conchas” forest fire of 2011 devastated the highlands of the Pueblo community where Douglas Fir trees used for traditional ceremonial and conservation purposes were burned en masse. Trees, Water & People’s collaboration with the Kewa Pueblo is a one of a kind reforestation program that marries indigenous traditions and customs with climate resilience strategies of the West. 

• • • • • • • • • • • •

After delivering the seedlings to the Pueblo’s greenhouse last Tuesday, we settled into a meeting at the Governor’s office where strategy, timeline, and scope of the project were revisited one final time. We originally planned to start planting on Wednesday, but due to heavy rains, the War Chief and his staff decided to hold off one more day for the climate to dry. Nevertheless, rain is a significant blessing and element for many Pueblo communities – the timing of our delivery of the seedlings felt more than apt. Thursday morning, we embarked to the planting site on top of the mountain in a line of 4WD trucks carrying just under 900 seedlings.

Rocky road conditions aside, we arrived at the site just shy of the morning breeze and kicked off the day with a prayer from the War Chief himself and a short, hands-on training on our methods and strategy. Unlike ponderosa pines, we learned from the New Mexico State Forestry Division that Douglas Fir seedlings like to be planted in cluster patterns of about 25 seedlings spread 2-3 feet from each other; this is a term called “nucleation”. The volunteer crew was quick to learn, and everyone was happy to teach one another, even in their native language.

Most impressive of all – beyond any technical achievements or success – is the multi-generational impact and participation that a project like this generates. We remember the recurring sentiment expressed by the War Chief and other elders in the community throughout the day: 

“We may not be around here long enough to see these trees mature, but it’s important we have our youth here to experience it and participate in the work themselves as they are the future stewards of these lands”. 

At every stage of sustainable development, TWP’s core mission has always been to empower local people to manage the natural resources they depend on, and we believe this happens best at the participatory level. The local tribe thanks you for your donations and commitment to the well-being of their community and their land – your dedication is what helps climate vulnerable communities continue to be resilient and powerful amidst our changing environment. Thank you! 

Swinging the Hoedad in the ground!
Swinging the Hoedad in the ground!
Teaching the basics
Teaching the basics
Property damaged by floods on the RCREC
Property damaged by floods on the RCREC

According to meteorologists, the “bomb cyclone”  (winter storm with pressure equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane) that hit the U.S. midwest in the early part of March was an unprecedented and historic climate event. For Lakota communities across South Dakota, this storm caused catastrophic flooding that destroyed homes, damaged roads, and left many families stranded.

"I never knew what a "bomb cyclone" was, until it exploded right on top of me and my family.” - Henry Red Cloud

The Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) was under 2 feet of water at certain points of the storms, and the majority of the main level’s furniture and infrastructure was damaged. Nevertheless, last week we had the opportunity to join the hardworking and dedicated crew of tree planters that insisted on continuing our joint reforestation project, even despite cold rains and wind that occurred on the first day of planting. We were not only surprised by this show of resiliency, but also the jovial and passionate energy that everyone brought with them to the project.

We arrived at the RCREC on a warm Sunday evening with a trailer full of healthy Ponderosa Pine seedlings, our pickup bed carrying hoedads, and cameras in hand. By Monday morning, it seemed questionable whether or not we would begin working in the field. The temperature was cold and a light mist had settled in that carried throughout the rest of the day. There was a crew of about 8 Lakota tree planters, however, they didn’t seem to mind the weather. Some were new to reforestation, others have been part of the project for years.

Ivan Lookinghorse, a Lakota spiritual leader from Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has come out to tree planting for 2 years now and had this to say:

"As Lakota people, we believe trees and Mother Earth have a heartbeat. That heart has been damaged, and it's our job to take care of it. Lena Wazizi Can Waka (These Pine Trees Are Sacred). What we’re doing planting these trees is honoring the sacred hoop of life; we’re not only helping the environment but we’re also focusing on teamwork and community development. We’re becoming relatives with the Earth again" - Ivan Lookinghorse, a spiritual leader from Cheyenne River Indian Reservation pictured in first photo.

Needless to say, these trees are being planted with a degree of spiritual intention that is hard to put into words. Throughout the few days we spent with the Lakota crew, we got to experience everyone’s friendly jokes, witness others lending a helping hand to new crewmembers, and overall were honored to spend time alongside such an extremely dedicated group. And when it came to planting actual trees, the crew was concerted, effective and powerful.

The Lakota crew aimed to plant 13,000 trees over the course of 10 days near the RCREC for ease of transportation and logistics given the recent floods. Tomorrow will mark the 10th day, and we will take the remaining Ponderosa Pines up to Bear Butte near Cheyenne River Tribal Lands next week. We were tremendously happy with last year's 94% survival rate of trees that were planted, and we hope to report the survival rate of these trees as soon as they have time to settle in the ground and spread their roots. Next, we will be planting in New Mexico around late July/early August, but you can stay abreast on most of our reforestation projects by following us on social media as well! Thank you for supporting reforestation on U.S. Tribal Lands.

Ivan Lookinghorse, from Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Ivan Lookinghorse, from Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Honored to work with amazing people!
Honored to work with amazing people!
Burn Area near the Santo Domino Pueblo
Burn Area near the Santo Domino Pueblo

After many months of deliberation and planning, Trees, Water & People (TWP) is finally ready to implement the first expansion of our long-standing National reforestation program outside of South Dakota. In addition to planting on the Pine Ridge Reservation, this summer TWP will be planting in collaboration with the Kewa Pueblo (formerly known as Santo Domingo Pueblo) in New Mexico. We spent the last week in planning sessions with the Pueblo's tribal Governor’s council and the Tribal Natural Resource Management Department to better understand the needs and capacity of the area, and are finally ready to begin this next phase of reforesting the Indigenous West.

We will continue planting trees on Pine Ridge this spring and are planning to plant 17,000 Ponderosa Pines, and between 500-1,000 Cottonwood ceremonial trees, a new addition to our repertoire. This will take place near Oglala and the Bear Butte Reservation close to Cheyenne River, and with the continued support of the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, TWP aims to make this season as successful as the last. 

In addition to the trees being planted on Pine Ridge this May, the Colorado State Forest Service has prepared 13,000 Douglas Fir seedlings for us to plant in Santo Domingo, along with the possibility of leaving some trees with the Cochiti reservation as a gift for letting us use their roads to access our main planting site. Guided by the leadership of local tribal members, we’ve learned that these sacred native trees have a great potential to revitalize areas most heavily impacted by human-driven desertification and abnormally long droughts. 

“These 13,000 Douglas Firs will enlighten the spirit in the Pueblo people as a way to honor and respect the ecology on these Native lands. Our purpose is to use these trees in accordance with the traditional customs of our culture and to strengthen the bond between humanity and nature by honoring the values that we are all interconnected through Mother Earth. In the respect of the Pueblo way of life, with each seedling we replant into the ground, we are giving back one aspect of life to her as a sign of appreciation and gratitude for her sacrifices.” - James Calabaza, National Program Coordinator, Kewa Pueblo Member

TWP is honored to be invited by the tribal leadership in New Mexico to bring our knowledge and expertise to the Kewa Pueblo, and we are looking forward to contributing to local livelihoods in this way. All of this is made possible by your contributions - financially, physically, and spiritually - which empower local communities to develop appropriate long-term solutions to the environmental challenges they are facing today. Stay tuned for more updates on this program as we approach the spring and summer planting season!

SIGN UP FOR E-NEWSLETTER to stay up to date on all our work on Tribal Lands!

 

Passing through Cochiti Lands
Passing through Cochiti Lands
Henry Red Cloud teaching the basics
Henry Red Cloud teaching the basics

With your support, this year has opened up new opportunities for Trees, Water & People (TWP) to provide more context and transparency to our long-standing tree planting project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Primarily, your sustained support for this project has enabled us to implement proper training with a developed curriculum for volunteers and local indigenous people who help us plant trees across the reservation. We have learned, once again, that the importance of participation from local tribal members, before and during the process, is crucial for the survival and overall health of trees planted. Of course, we would be remiss not to mention the importance of the natural environment and a healthy dose of rain, which was very kind to us this year, as part of our success as well.

Nevertheless, in 2018 TWP planted 35,000 trees on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation and surrounding communities, as well as Bear Butte, located in South Dakota, in partnership with the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Last year we had an estimated 49% survival rate. This year the goal of our National Director, Eriq Acosta, focused more heavily on transparency in data collection and follow-up as well as the importance of holistic, ecological education of ourselves and the well-being of the planet. We focused on burn sites and beautification of surrounding communities at schools, homes, and community centers not only for the sake of reaching our numerical goals but also to intentionally give back to the Earth after so much continues to be taken from it on a daily basis.

One day, an older woman at Wounded Knee approached me and asked what we were doing and I said, "Planting trees", to which she replied, "I have been praying to God for trees". We most definitely planted trees on her property, and with the help of our friend Dave Bartecchi at Village Earth, we recently learned that our survival rate for trees planted in 2018 is 94%! This gives me hope that our continued effort to heal ourselves in the process of healing the land is providing greater fruits than we once imagined.

The success of this year has also been heavily favored due to the cooperation of our local indigenous partners and their willingness to take the time to learn about the importance of the tree and of tree planting for our future generations. We also want to send a huge thank you to all of the volunteers that supported us on this project. We would not have completed it without their generous support and willingness to travel a great distance to learn and be a part of these indigenous communities. One of our goals here at TWP is to help be a bridge for all communities, so we are honored to have witnessed so much amazing collaboration through this last year of tree planting!

With all this in mind and heart, we are already in the process of broadening our reach to other reservations across the United States to help educate more people on the purpose of trees and tree planting, as well as continuing the tradition of replanting burn sites. We are looking forward to a budding partnership with the Pueblo of Santo Domingo in New Mexico to put 10,000 trees in their surrounding lands at a burn site.

This is just a start, but our hope is to continue expanding on the number of trees planted in Pine Ridge in future years and other surrounding communities, so please stay tuned and we can not emphasize our gratitude enough to all of you who are making this possible. 

Baa ahééh nisin, díidí. (About it I feel grateful, this here.)

Carefully preparing tree seedling to be planted
Carefully preparing tree seedling to be planted
30,000 trees in the greenhouse before planting!
30,000 trees in the greenhouse before planting!

From May 18 – 20, I had the privilege to be a part of Trees, Water & People and Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center's (RCREC) campaign to plant 30,000 pine trees on Tribal Lands in areas most deeply affected by forest fires. I stayed at the Sacred Earth Lodge in Pine Ridge along with good and new friends who volunteered for this project. We all enjoyed breakfast and coffee together in the morning before heading off to locations on the Oglala side of Pine Ridge as well as at Wounded Knee. In the beginning, I felt nervous about plunging a large sharp blade into the ground to create a home for the baby trees – I’m not a particularly strong person, and I don’t pride myself on my manual labor skills. But, Avery and Silas Red Cloud taught us how to properly create a hole, plant the tree, get rid of any air bubbles, and create a nice bed. By the end of the first day, I was a tree planting master.

One of the most memorable moments for me occurred on the last day of tree planting. Henry Red Cloud, one of the founders of RCR, spoke to our group of 25 volunteers as we began to plant. He told us about his beliefs for the mission, how we as humans seem to have lost touch with nature, and we treat it as a machine instead of as something alive. It is true, we take and take, and give little back. Henry told us, this is a way to give back, and these trees will continue to give oxygen and life for generations after us. We planted over 2,500 trees that day alone.

I struggle with finding the right words to describe the powerful lessons I’ve learned from my experiences and relationships built in Pine Ridge. While this project has helped to heal the landscape within the Reservation, there is still much healing to be done. I feel a great love for the Natives we worked with on this project, who invited us as volunteers to come back and continue to learn about their culture and how to be an advocate. I plan to accept their invitation, as well as continue my relationship with Trees, Water & People, and the good friends I’ve made who share similar goals.

A note from TWP's National Director, Eriq Acosta: 

Thanks to the incredible donors, volunteers, residents of Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Cheyenne River Reservations, we are 95% complete with our third season of tree planting on Tribal Lands! Although tree planting season takes hard work and dedication, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to put a tree into the ground, and sharing the experience with like-minded people in the fight for a more just and sustainable planet. 

To stay up to date about TWP news, please sign up for our eNewsletter.

 

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Organization Information

Trees Water & People

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @treeswater
Project Leader:
Jose Chalit
Fort Collins, Colorado United States

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