Austin Thompson is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nations, who reside in North Carolina on ancestral homelands and are the only federally recognized tribe in the state. Austin brings with him a wealth of knowledge about what it’s like to be a Native American in our country today, and with that comes his passion for promoting renewable energy to all tribal nations.
He came to GRID as a volunteer, hearing about our organization while studying at Ecotech Institute in Aurora, and it didn’t take long before he made his way up to team leader. Now he is showing his knowledge on the roof, helping less experienced volunteers get their own footing. “I love what GRID does, like with tribal communities that don't have the money to pay for power. In South Dakota where they might use wood to heat their homes because they don't have the money to pay for it. And of course the hands-on experience and the people. And I think it's fun!” he exclaimed.
Connection to nature is important to him, he says, “Being passionate about the environment led me to renewable and eventually to solar. The mountains, the woods, the rivers...that's where I spend all of my time." He took many things into consideration with the decision to move west, “Colorado has the perfect conditions for solar, it’s always sunny. And there are known programs like SEI and NREL.”
His tribe in North Carolina has some forward thinking plans for their future. "My community started a strategic energy program to implement solar thermal. They have a couple different solar trees around the visitor’s centers and some micro-wind turbines. They are real big into energy efficiency and replacing HVAC units. And they built a school with geo-thermal."
That progressive attitude sparked a passion in Austin, and with an education in solar energy he hopes to make a difference in his home community and in the world. Speaking of the larger tribal community in this country, he says about his goals, "Helping my people, seeing how they struggle and how they don't have, that they're not as well off as other tribes. To get them involved in something I think they would be passionate about the same way I am. Show them how it's all about using the resources we have."