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  • Writer's pictureIndigenized Energy

Northern Cheyenne Launch Innovative Solar Program

We're excited to share a remarkable milestone in the Northern Cheyenne Tribe's, construction has finally commenced on the first phase of the Northern Cheyenne White River Community Solar project, funded by the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Programs. This initiative signifies a giant leap towards a cleaner, more sustainable future for the tribe and the wider community.

One of the reasons for the project's delay was the time taken by the tribe and project manager, Indigenized Energy, to design a unique ownership structure for the project. Instead of giving away the solar systems to tribal members, the NCT has adopted an innovative ownership model. The tribe will retain ownership of these systems, taking responsibility for their upkeep and repairs. In return, residents will benefit from reduced energy bills. Some of these savings will be shared with the tribe. Revenue generated from this project will be reinvested into a newly established solar program supporting operational costs and paving the way for future projects on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

Executive Director Cody Two Bears underscored the uniqueness of Indigenized Energy’s approach. "We are first, and foremost, a capacity-building organization. Historically, companies would parachute in, build something on Native lands, and leave. They never took the time to learn about the people and ask them what they needed. We worked closely with the Northern Cheyenne to plan and build a renewable energy solution that would work for them. And we will continue to be with them as they maintain and expand renewable energy assets.

The NCT's commitment to community growth and development is exemplified through their integration of workforce training into this project. With funding from Indigenized Energy, eleven tribal members were provided with the opportunity to participate in a two-week training program, gaining hands-on experience in building the first two ground mount solar systems. "We are creating workforce pathways for Native people that never existed before,” said Two Bears. These are the kinds of capabilities tribes need if they are going to fully embrace the opportunity to be leaders in solar development." He added, “In the past, Native people have been left out of the conversation. Right now, there is an opportunity for Native people to be on the forefront of an environmental and economic movement. We are going to make sure that happens.”

What's truly remarkable is that each trainee received a permanent job offer from the project contractor, Freedom Forever, by the middle of the second week. Eight of the Northern Cheyenne Crew, which named themselves the Photon Wranglers, accepted positions and helped build the remaining 13 systems ahead of schedule, and just in time to beat the first snow of the season.

"The collaboration was a resounding success, and the enthusiasm and rapid learning exhibited by the tribal members allowed the project to finish ahead of schedule" shared a Freedom Forever crew lead. In an unexpected turn of events, Freedom Forever was so impressed with the Cheyenne crew that they initiated the creation of a traveling crew to work on ground mount systems in Texas over the winter. Six members of the tribe are eager to accept this offer and return home in the spring to contribute to the next phase of projects.

Silver Little Eagle, Chair of the Northern Cheyenne Sustainable Energy Committee underscores the importance of the program to the leadership of the tribe. “Solar energy offers us a chance to regain our independence as a nation and stop relying on fossil fuels. It creates jobs and helps us move toward clean energy for the next seven generations.”

“The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and Indigenized Energy have worked long and hard to develop a clean energy project to best serve the interest of the Tribe. The Office of Indian Energy supports the Tribe’s vision of a renewable energy future and is thrilled to see the start of this solar project with systems being installed on Tribal elders’ homes.” - Tweedie Doe, Program Officer, DOE Office of Indian Energy William Walksalong, NCT Tribal Administrator, shared his perspective, stating, "Indigenized Energy has been instrumental in helping us re-shape this project from the original plan that was created by outside consultants. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe now has an innovative approach that puts our people first and that we should be able to sustain in the future."

Indigenized Energy, in collaboration with NDN Collective, the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, and Jinko Solar, played a pivotal role in helping the tribe meet the 20% matching fund requirements set by the DOE. Indigenized Energy also played a key role in reshaping the project, putting the welfare of the community first and creating a sustainable approach that can thrive in the future.

This project embodies not just the potential of solar energy but also the power of collaboration, innovation, and community-building. It showcases how, with a forward-thinking approach, tribes can take control of their energy future, create jobs, and lead the way in renewable energy.

We hope that other tribes read this and are inspired to work with our team at Indigenized Energy. Together, we can continue to empower communities, protect the environment, and forge a brighter and more sustainable tomorrow.

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