Nonprofit Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative receives nearly $800,000 MacArthur grant for solar projects

Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative, a Native-led nonprofit organization that empowers American Indian tribes to replace extractive energy systems with clean, regenerative energy has received a $775,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for its work supporting Native American tribes as they pursue energy sovereignty and a return to self-determination.

“The MacArthur Foundation is making significant investments to combat climate change, placing a new emphasis on its impacts on BIPOC communities,” said Chéri Smith, founder of Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative. “We are honored that the Foundation has recognized the importance and urgency of our mission to empower Native American tribes to develop and deploy renewable energy to restore their self-reliance. Like the MacArthur Foundation, we are committed to supporting the reinvention of systems that foster just, equitable and resilient Native communities. Replacing extractive energy systems with clean, regenerative energy is a transformational solution to a dire problem,” Smith said.

“As we emerge from this moment of crisis, we have an opportunity to improve the critical systems that people and places need to thrive. Our systems and structures must be rebuilt,” said MacArthur Foundation President John Palfrey. “We are committed to ensuring that our response to the pandemic is focused on supporting the reimagining of systems that create a more just, equitable and resilient world.”

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, and aligns with Native belief systems.

“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 survival,” said Otto Braided Hair, Northern Cheyenne Tribal Member and co-founder and executive director of Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative. “This funding supports critical efforts to ensure that 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. Coming out of a pandemic, this is more important than ever.”

Leveraging U.S. Department of Energy funding, philanthropy, and impact investment, Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative’s scope of work in the next 12 months includes the development of residential-, commercial- and utility-scale projects totaling more than three megawatts on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, and more on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. As more funding is secured, Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative’s work will expand to additional tribes.

News item from Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative

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