Tribal Member Helps his Tribe Go Solar

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February 26, 2019
Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians Tribal Member Joseph Mirelez

For many people, Eastern Coachella is the site of two places: Palm Springs and the Coachella music festival. But for many people like Joseph Mirelez, it is home to many tribes of Native Americans, each with a rich and vibrant history. Joseph Mirelez is a resident of the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians tribe and has served numerous leadership roles over the past fifteen years, helping to shape the evolution of Torres-Martinez tribe.

Joseph first heard about GRID Alternatives seven years ago from Lisa Castilone, GRID IE’s Tribal Manager and Outreach Coordinator. After a presentation about job training opportunities and the solar programs that GRID Alternatives offers, Joseph realized the potential impacts that no-cost solar could have for himself and his tribe. In a region of California where the weather is often over 100 degrees, electricity bills often spike in the summer months as residents try to cool their homes. Solar was a logical solution to this dilemma.

About three times a year, often during the summer, the power goes out for hours before being restored by the local utility. During this time, the temperature becomes sweltering inside and tribal members simply must wait and hope that the electricity will come back on. GRID offers an alternative to their reliance on electrical utilities, providing a sustainable alternative to generators and allowing them to save up to 90 percent on their electric bill.

As an active participant with GRID, Joseph recruited volunteers from his community to help host a Solar Spring Break. Joseph’s outreach included being the point of contact for meals, activity planning, and canvassing with flyers made to publicize the event. This alternative spring break program brought college students from California State University, East Bay to the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians tribe to install solar systems on tribal members’ homes. Joseph helped to coordinate the community and the students to provide a week of service, hikes on ancestral tribal lands, and an excursion to the Salton Sea. He helped GRID to coordinate builds in which tribal members helped one another install their solar systems, “for that sliver of a moment it made us feel like a community again.” Solar Spring Break helped to foster unity and solidarity within the tribe in a mutually beneficial way. Joseph believes that GRID’s job training opportunities provide a sustainable career path for many tribal youth, as the program teaches everything from installation basics to electrical work.

GRID’s Outreach Coordinators were very thorough about explaining every step of the process and relieved any qualms the tribal members had. Joseph encourages anyone to learn how GRID can reduce their energy bills, by filling out a pre-qualification form at www.gridsolar.org or calling 951-465-2864.