Denver high school student Lina Krueck woke up to the sounds of chirping birds in a tent not far from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. After some coffee and breakfast, Lina, along with seven of her fellow students, headed off to Pine Ridge for a day of installing solar panels on the home of Loran Conquering Bear, a tribal elder. For Lina, this wasn’t just any project--it was personal.
Lina was adopted from the Pine Ridge Reservation as a baby, her birth mother a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Now a young woman of 18, Lina was getting to visit for the very first time and help bring clean energy to a community so close to her heart.
“The people I met were incredible.” said Lina. “I felt so at home, and I felt a real connection with people I had never even met before. It was a very special trip for me. I've never felt like a part of a community the same way I did while I was there on Pine Ridge.”
Mr. Conquering Bear, a U.S. military veteran, was grateful for the chance to get solar on his home. “I think this project is awesome with the cost savings because the majority of everyone’s income here is spent on propane and electricity, and in winter time it’s harder because they have to pay sometimes half their income,” he said. “I’m on dialysis and I have to travel 400 miles a week to get treatment, and paying for gas is a lot. Our money is really budgeted, and getting this help on our electricity bills will really help.”
The project was made possible through a partnership with Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing (OSLH) and Ecological Action, a high school club from Denver, CO that focuses on sustainability and renewable energy. The students held fundraisers to help offset the cost of the system and visited the GRID Colorado office to participate in special solar photovoltaic workshops from the tribal team leading up to the installation.
For many of the students, it was their first time to the Great Plains and visiting one of the seven sub-tribes that make up the Great Sioux Nation. The students worked hard alongside community members to bring the solar array to life while learning how to use new technology like microinverters, which were generously donated by Enphase Energy. According to Jeff Boyce, the faculty leader of Ecological Action, it was a life changing for many of the students, several of whom reflected on their experience on the group’s blog.
“This trip changed the lives of my students and opened my eyes to the power of learning outside the classroom,” he said. “The folks at GRID went out of their way to educate, to engage and empower my students each and every day. They are true ‘Solar Warriors!’”