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Solve at Pine Ridge: Highlights from Two Days in South Dakota

This year’s Indigenous Communities Fellowship recently wrapped up with Solve at Pine Ridge, a two-day gathering on Oglala Lakota lands to celebrate the Solve Fellows and their innovative solutions addressing everything from food production to data literacy to renewable energy. 

For some attendees, the gathering provided an opportunity to reconnect with fellow innovators, compare notes, and share best practices. For others, this was a first on-the-ground glimpse into entrepreneurship across Indian Country.

The weekend kicked off with a welcome reception at Racing Magpie, a gallery and co-working space in Rapid City, SD with a focus on Native and regional artists

Solve at Pine Ridge 2019 fostered connection and partnership between Fellows and event attendees, and included visits to several 2018 Fellow project sites.

Our first project visit was at Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, outside of Rapid City. Founder Henry Red Cloud, a 2018 Solve Fellow, showcased his solar air furnaces and water pumps, mobile solar-powered trailer, and compressed earth block (CEB) office building. Partners at Olin College and the MIT D-Lab, which works to solve global poverty challenges, are currently iterating on one of Red Cloud’s off-grid solar furnaces to improve its usability. 

2018 Fellow Henry Red Cloud, Founder of Lakota Solar Enterprises and Red Cloud Renewable

Despite being heavily affected by the severe spring floods, Red Cloud Renewable is doing what it does best: re-building and bringing green technology and employment to Native American communities. Right after our visit, Red Cloud and his team headed to Colorado for another round of their Tribal Train the Trainer program. This initiative, in conjunction with Solar Energy International (SEI), aims to empower additional tribes with skilled solar trainers through mentorship, in-depth curriculum, and NABCEP certification opportunities. 

On the last day, we also had the chance to spend time at 2018 Solve Fellow Rose Fraser’s Oyate Teca Project in Kyle, South Dakota. At Oyate Teca, you’ll find everything from hoop houses to sewing rooms, food trucks to hay bale gardening, and community feeds to farmer’s markets. One of their core programs is a nine-month program that teaches community members growing methodologies, traditional food storage, and seasonal entrepreneurship skills through an incentive-based structure—rewarding those who complete sections of the program with practical items such as canning machinery and garden tools. 

We convened for the main event at Thunder Valley (another 2018 Solve Fellow), a Lakota-run grassroots Community Development Corporation that’s creating systemic change on the Pine Ridge Reservation through home ownership, community space, education, and job training. In its new Community Center, we got down to business during Brain Trust sessions, small group discussions between 2019 Solve Fellows and event attendees to exchange relevant knowledge, feedback, and advice. 

2019 Solve Fellow Marla Bull Bear (right) discusses her organization Lakota Youth Development Honey Lodge during an afternoon Brain Trust session

To highlight local and Indigenous education expertise, we held a dinner (of slow-cooked buffalo in rendered duck fat, corncake with wojapi, and handpicked cheyaka iced tea) and a panel discussion on native scholarship, access to education, and student innovation. 

The panel, consisting of Arizona State University’s Jacob Moore, Teach for America’s Josie Green, and John Little of the Indian University of North America, was moderator by MIT professor Janelle Knox-Hayes and discussed the importance of culture-affirming spaces, support structures, and decolonized curriculum. 

With the gorgeous scenery of the great plains still fresh in our minds, we look forward to continued partnerships and knowledge sharing to support Indigenous-led solutions that are solving complex challenges. Interested in mentoring, funding, or otherwise supporting Solve Fellows? Get in touch with us at fellows@solve.mit.edu.


2018 Fellow Rose Fraser (right) shows her hoop house produce to other Solve Fellows, MIT faculty, and Olin College students. Photo: MIT Solve

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Solve at Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

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