Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans

by Indigenized Energy Initiative
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Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
Solar Pathway out of Poverty for Native Americans
IEI Founder & CEO, Cheri Smith at MIT Solve Finals
IEI Founder & CEO, Cheri Smith at MIT Solve Finals

We are honored to have entered into a partnership with the Menominee Tribe, supporting them in their journey towards energy independence. Tribal Chairman, Ron Corn, hosted IEI team members for a few days of immersion in beautiful Menominee culture at their 54th annual powow.

Congratulations to Founder and CEO of Indigenized Energy Initiative, Chéri Smith, who was selected as a 2022 Solve - MIT Indigenous Communities Fellow! Indigenized Energy Initiative was named an MIT Solver Team, which comes with a year of technical assistance from the MIT community, and other fabulous benefits.  IEI was also awarded The GM Prize, supported by General Motors and selected as a finalist for The Elevate Prize, supported by The Elevate Prize Foundation!

We are excited to announce that IEI has been awarded a $300,000 grant from The Energy Foundation, for work with tribes in the plains states and upper midwest.

The Inflation Reduction Act has over 60 provisions directly benefitting Native American Tribres. IEI is being being counted on by U.S. Department of Energy as trusted partner to disseminate information and provide support to tribes to aid them in taking advantage of the tremendous clean energy benefits this legislation provides. We hosted an informational webinar for tribes with the US Department of Energy on October 13th which can be found on our website.

We attended and had speaking engagements at 5 major solar and tribal conferences throughout the months of September and October to raise awareness of our important work.  We will continue to meet tribes where they are at and share knowledge, information and support to mitigate climate change, transform economies, and foster a self-determined path towards energy sovereignty.


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Over 40k people joined us on April 15th for an Instagram Live conversation with Shailene Woodley and IEI Co-Creator Cody Two Bears.


IEI co-creator Cody Two Bears and actress Shailene Woodley are very close, which made for a warm and engaging exchange between them on Instagram Live.  Shailene provided the audience of over 40,000 followers with an overview of the NO DAPL protests which brought her and thousands of others to Standing Rock in 2016, reminding all what was at stake. 

Cody talked about his motivation for seeking support for the Indigenized Energy 300 kW solar array -- the largest solar array in the state of North Dakota:  "I didn't want to just protest about it [opposing fossil fuels], I wanted to be about it."  Shailene made an impassioned plea to her followers to support IEI and the work we're doing on Standing Rock and beyond.  


Since the livestream aired, IEI has gained over two thousand new followers, and small donations are coming in from far and wide!


IEI founder, Chéri Smith, was selected to contribute to the Bloomberg Philanthropies Beyond Carbon Summit, facilitated by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).  To help address the mounting climate change crisis, Michael R. Bloomberg launched Beyond Carbon, the largest-ever coordinated campaign against climate change in the United States. Beyond Carbon is working with advocates around the country to build on the leadership and climate progress underway in our states, cities, and communities to maximize the progress on climate change.  


The objectives of the Summit are to: Accelerate progress towards a 100% clean energy economy by advancing work on priority Beyond Carbon goals -- retiring coal, stopping the rush to new gas, and supporting an equitable transition to clean energy; Collaboratively structure, coordinate, and plan work across Beyond Carbon grantees and other organizations; Connect participants across topic areas to share work, learn about emerging resources or initiatives, and build a network of potential collaborators.  


Chéri was part of a cohort of subject matter experts who collaborated on these objectives throughout the three-day summit.  AS intended, many are continuing to work together in the days following the event, including a new relationship between IEI and RMI, focused on the eLab Accelerator.  The RMI eLab program brings together teams throughout North America that are working on critical projects for the clean energy transition.  IEI co-founder, David Riley, is now working with RMI eLab administrators to help adapt their Accelerator program to be more conducive to supporting Native American teams.










IEI co-creator, Cody Two Bears, delivered a keynote address at the University of Vermont's Inclusive Excellence Symposium (IES). The IES supports UVM faculty, staff, and all others seeking to develop skills, knowledge, and a deeper understanding of diversity that supports excellence in teaching, service, and research.


The symposium sessions are dedicated to creating “open spaces” where all members of our community can participate in authentic dialogue, valued reflection, and expanded learning to promote inclusive excellence for all. Cody led a discussion on how renewable energy can empower native communities across the country and how aligns with belief systems and traditional customs of Native people.


Our Contact Information

Indigenized Energy Initiative

2150 Allston Way, Suite 460
Berkeley, CA 94704


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Northern Cheyenne Solar Warrior Trainees
Northern Cheyenne Solar Warrior Trainees

Dear Friends,

All of us at Indigenized Energy Initiative (IEI) would like to express our sincere gratitude for your support in 2021, and wish you a happy and healthy new year! We all enter 2022 with uncertainty, as we face a third consecutive year of disruption due to a global pandemic which has changed the way we behave, the way we learn, the way we work, and the way we interact with our friends, colleagues and family. We mourn for those we have lost and hold closer those who are dear to us. One thing is certain, we can take nothing for granted, including your support, which has allowed us to continue our important work through this uncertainty.

Indeed, the extraordinary efforts put forth by our core and extended IEI team led to tremendous progress for our organization in 2021! Please have a look at some of the accomplishments we're most proud of, below. As always, we welcome your questions, comments and suggestions, and ask that you share this message with anyone in your network you feel may have an interest in our work.

Lastly, with the help of all of you - our amazing supporters - we raised over $1.4M in 2021. As a reminder, IEI runs on philanthropy, allowing us to offer our many of our critical energy planning and capacity building services to tribes at no cost to them, teaching them how to leverage federal funding to revamp their extractive and exploitive fossil-fueled energy systems with clean and regenerative solar. Our goal for 2022 will be even more ambitious. Please consider helping us start the new year by contributing to Indigenized Energy Initiative. Whether large or small, one-time or recurring every donation makes a difference.

From all of us at IEI, we offer you our very best wishes for 2022!


2021 Highlights

  • In January, with a generous gift from the Pazala Foundation, we launched the second phase of our initiative, and were able to begin paying team members who had been working for years as volunteers.

  • In June, we were recognized by The MacArthur Foundation for our work uplifting Indigenous communities by providing support to enable their autonomous pursuit of a just recovery that is guided and informed by their priorities, culture, and practices. We were awarded a major grant from their pool of Equitable Recovery funding which allowed us to staff up and formally launch our programming on the Northern Cheyenne and Standing Rock Reservations.

  • In July, in partnership with Empowered by Light, we completed an important project on the Muddy Hall community building on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.  The 10kw solar array with battery backup system, built by a crew of young Northern Cheyenne tribal members, provides clean and reliable power for the many community events and educational activities that are hosted there, and to serve as an emergency shelter when needed.  This project builds on years of partnership with Northern Cheyenne Tribal leaders and community members and officially launched our Solar Warrior training program with Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.  

  • In September, on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, we officially re-launched our organization (formerly known as Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative) as Indigenized Energy Initiative, with the leadership of our four Native Solar Warriors. At the same time, we convened our first in-person Advisory Board meeting.  We are deeply grateful for the expertise and guidance they lent there, and to our ongoing efforts.

  • Also in September, with support from philanthropist, musician and footwear/apparel designer, Pharrell Williams, and the global brand, Adidas, we completed another important project -- a 10kW ground-mount solar array -- the first residential solar array on Standing Rock to produce 100% of a family's power needs from the sun. This project was built by young tribal member Solar Warrior Trainees from five different tribes, all coming together to learn and support each other in honor of tribal elders who have dedicated their lives to serving their community.

  • In November, we hosted our first in-person fundraising event, held at The David Brower Center (the Berkeley, CA home of our fiscal sponsor, Earth Island Institute).  The evening was spent in gratitude to our colleagues, donors and friends, and celebrating the year's accomplishments.  Over 100 supporters attended the event to view the premiere of our new short film highlighting the work of the initiative, and imbibe in delicious Indigenous delicacies prepared by Chef Crystal Wahpepah (Kickapoo).

  • In December, our team expanded to seven employees -- five of whom are enrolled tribal members -- plus several talented Native and non-Native individuals working on contract to support the work and mission of IEI.
Standing Rock Solar Warrior Trainees
Standing Rock Solar Warrior Trainees
Crow Creek Tribal Member Installer, Darius Benally
Crow Creek Tribal Member Installer, Darius Benally
Cheyenne Tribal Member Installer, RayLynn Sooktis
Cheyenne Tribal Member Installer, RayLynn Sooktis


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Greetings from Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative, an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to supporting American Indian Tribes pursue energy independence.

Since the Plains Indian war of 1864 to the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn, the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes have fought together to protect our people, our homelands, and the life-giving buffalo. Today the struggle continues against threats to our lands, food sources, and culture.

In more recent years, the Standing Rock Sioux (present day North Dakota), Northern Cheyenne (present day Montana), and many other tribes, have resisted fossil fuel development and its harmful effects on land, air, and water, and its damaging consequences to Earth due to global climate change. At the same time, the promise of jobs and economic benefits of fossil fuels have tempted tribal leaders. Most of our people have resisted this temptation and have chosen to honor our core values of care and protection of Earth. Our elders understood and taught us this sacred trust. As our determination continues, we believe renewable energy and the energy independence of our communities is the best path forward for our people.

Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative was founded in 2016 in response to the inspiring century-long leadership of American Indian tribes in resisting fossil fuels and the growing desire to realize the regenerative potential of renewable energy on tribal lands. Our mission is to empower American Indian tribes to transform their energy systems in a way that promotes long-term economic development and restores self-sufficiency. Our approach is to grow the capacity of tribal leaders and organizations to plan, develop, and maintain renewable energy resources and resilient energy systems.

Our scope of work for 2021-2022 includes (1) Helping multiple tribes develop long-term energy plans; (2) Building the capacity of tribal leaders and colleges to pursue these plans, and (3) assisting tribes with the development of residential, commercial and utility-scale renewable energy projects. In the process of this work, we will guide and support tribes as they establish the organizational readiness and skilled workforce needed to pursue solar energy development, form tribal-led cooperative utilities, and ultimately achieve energy independence.

As the leaders of Covenant Solar Initiative, we have embarked on a first-of-its-kind effort to empower American Indian communities to pursue a future fueled by the sun. We invite you to join us on this journey. We would be honored to have your support, which can take many forms.  Funds are needed to pursue our work, but, equally important is advocacy, volunteering time and expertise, and spreading the word about this important initiative.

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Organization Information

Indigenized Energy Initiative

Location: Berkeley, CA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @indigenized_IEI
Project Leader:
Otto Braided Hair
Lame Deer , MT United States

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