Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Indigenized Energy Initiative

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What is the name of your solution?

Indigenized Energy Initiative

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Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

IEI is building the capacity of tribes to create a self-determined pathway towards energy independence and restoration of true sovereignty and hope.

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

If we asked you to imagine a place where 40 percent of people live without electricity, more than 90 percent live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate exceeds 80 percent, you might picture an isolated village in a developing country. But in fact, these statistics apply to many Native American communities within the United States. In the United States, more than one million people reside on Indian reservations, which are often referred to as the “third world” of America. The Northern Cheyenne Reservation, in southeastern Montana, is one of them.

The Northern Cheyenne are a recognized sovereign nation of the Great Plains. Like many of North America’s Indigenous peoples, they are impacted to this day by the history of European colonization and violence. In the case of this tribe, their history includes the US army-led Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, in which hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed, the majority of them women and children.

Today, the Northern Cheyenne are among the poorest, most socially disadvantaged people in North America. Broken treaties, forced assimilation, and the lack of any tangible economy since the deliberate extermination of the buffalo by colonists have all taken their toll on the tribe. More than 40 percent of the tribe’s population is under the age of 18 and one-third of households are overcrowded. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports the unemployment rate at 60 percent, but the Tribal Council will tell you it’s closer to 90 percent. Most people are struggling to pay bills, and many must leave the reservation in search of work to support their families. Life expectancy on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation is 55 years — 23 years below that of the average American.  

With subtle differences, many tribes of the Great Plains are facing the same challenges.  The cost of electricity poses a major challenge on these reservations, with significant implications on public health as well as economic development. A large percentage of reservation homes are poorly constructed with little or no insulation, and they rely on inefficient electric heating systems. Electricity costs are inordinately high in Indian Country. Many families cannot afford to pay their bills so their power is often turned off by the local utility.

Compounding the issue is that, in the Great Plains, utility companies aren’t closely regulated, and aren't penalized for the common practice of turning off electricity to families when they fall behind on their bills.  Even for homes that shelter elders, the sick, or the young. This is particularly problematic during harsh Plains winters, when people in Indian Country often resort to burning things to keep warm. Wood is scarce and expensive, so people burn anything they can find — furniture, trash, tires. When they run out of things to burn, people die of exposure to cold in their own homes. This is happening in 2022.  Right here in America.

Knowing all of this, you might be astonished to learn that the Northern Cheyenne Tribe could have ensured economic prosperity for their people nearly a half-century ago. The Tribe's homelands sit atop the richest seam of low-sulfur coal remaining in the country. Worth billions of dollars, the coal is a tantalizing resource. Year after year, going back to 1973 when mining behemoth Arch Coal offered the tribe a hospital in exchange for “exploration rights,” proposals have been put forth to mine the coal. Year after year, these proposals have been rejected, and the sacred covenants to protect and preserve Mother Earth have been upheld. In 2017, in a demonstration of their conviction not to mine the land, the Tribe — along with a coalition of conservation groups — sued the Trump administration for lifting a moratorium on coal leasing on public lands and exposing southeastern Montana to further fossil fuel development.

For tribes like the Northern Cheyenne, the pressure to succumb to the lure of promised riches is constant.  The reservation is hemmed in by a large coal-burning power plant and multiple open-cast coal mines. Another coal mine has been proposed along the reservation’s border as well.  Witnessing the economic benefits that extraction can bring, benefits experienced by neighboring tribes like the Crow, causes discord among tribal members and tribal leaders.

As such, the Tribal Council’s decision to hold off developers has at times been contentious. When the conflict came to a head several years ago, a young tribal member named Vanessa Braided Hair, now a member of the IEI team, founded a grassroots advocacy group called ecoCheyenne. From 2012 to 2015, with support from National Wildlife Federation and Honor the Earth, ecoCheyenne worked to raise awareness about the threat fossil fuel extraction poses to the land, water, air, and people. The group’s work inspired hundreds of tribal members to implore their Tribal Council to act. And act they did.

After years of consternation and contemplation, in 2016, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council adopted a series of unprecedented resolutions eschewing fossil fuels and endorsing green energy. Conceding the strength of the tribe’s convictions, in March 2016, Arch Coal withdrew its 40-year-old mining application.

In the wake of this victory, the tribe remained resolute in its decision to forgo fossil fuels, but felt insecure about its energy — and economic — future. What followed was a humble invitation to the energy experts who now comprise the Indigenized Energy Initiative team to explore green energy opportunities on the reservation. Since then, IEI has grown into a diverse team of Native American tribal, educational, and community development leaders, coupled with many of the nation’s foremost experts in solar technology, education, and energy policy, all working towards vibrant and vital Indigenous communities powered by the sun.

Our Native-led initiative was inspired by the convictions and leadership of the Northern Cheyenne, and is now building the capacity of many tribes to create a self-determined pathway to energy independence.  By leveraging the power of clean energy, we are working shoulder-to-shoulder with tribes in revitalizing their economies, creating good jobs for tribal members, and restoring vitality and hope to Native American communities with the power of the sun.  

This approach can be adapted for use in communities most anywhere in the world - Indigenous, urban, rural.  Our goal is to inspire communities around the globe to take charge of their own energy systems, for the benefit of themselves and future generations.


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What is your solution?

Indigenized Energy Initiative (IEI) is a Native-led nonprofit organization focused on harnessing the power of renewable energy as a means towards the restoration of self determination in Native American communities.  The organization was originally founded as Covenant Solar Initiative in 2016, in response to the inspiring leadership of American Indian tribes in resisting fossil fuels and the growing desire to realize the regenerative potential of renewable energy on tribal lands. After many years working with Native American leaders to deploy solar demonstration projects in their communities, IEI is now supporting multiple American Indian tribes in their efforts to develop energy master plans, strategic energy projects, and development of a Native workforce that will lead to the realization of our shared vision. 

Who we are, and what we do:  IEI is a team of Indigenous leaders and solar experts working to establish trusting relationships and programs that empower Native People to transform their economic systems.   We partner with Native tribes to create regenerative energy systems that protect and care for Mother Earth. We respect and honor tribal culture, values and traditional wisdom while promoting healing and hope by creating meaningful opportunities for our partners through the pursuit of sustainable energy in a self-determined way, strengthening the sovereignty of tribal nations.

Our first-of-its-kind approach to tribal renewable energy develops the capacity of American Indian tribes to establish tribal utilities, develop workforces of tribal members and create Native-owned green businesses, enabling tribes and their members to reap 100% of the benefits of clean energy, rather than sending every dollar spent on energy outside of the community.

In close partnership with tribal governments, tribal colleges, community-based organizations, IEI deploys customized Native-led training programs to educate tribal members in solar entrepreneurship, installation, maintenance, and financing. These programs prepare tribes and their members to develop, construct, and maintain clean energy systems in a way that is responsive to their unique economic, ecological, cultural, and social conditions, and that maximizes the inclusion and engagement of local labor and businesses.  

Over several years, we have developed innovative, regenerative financial mechanisms which will support sustainable, solar-driven economies in tribal communities, built and led by Native people.  Our systems-based engagement method is underpinned by a sophisticated and elegant approach to clean energy development - which weaves expertise in policy, economic development, workforce development, technology, and systems operations - to plan, design, build, and maintain clean energy systems in a manner that builds capacity for tribes to eliminate energy poverty in their community, reclaim their sovereignty, and restore hope to their people.

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Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit? In what ways will your solution benefit this community?

OUR COMMUNITIES

IEI's base of operations is in Lame Deer, Montana, on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.  Five of our staff are enrolled Northern Cheyenne tribal members - our co-founder and executive director, Otto Braided Hair, and four additional team members.  We have a second home base on the Standing Rock Reservation, run by our co-founder and head of partnerships, Standing Rock Sioux tribal member, Cody Two Bears.  Our third base is the location of our Solar Warriors training program on the Pine Ridge Reservation, delivered by Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, which was founded and is managed by IEI Advisory Board member, Chief Henry Red Cloud.

WHO WE SERVE

Over two million people reside on Indian reservations in our country. For the tribes of the Great Plains, unemployment rates exceed 80%, and 90% of tribal members live in poverty. Our work is focused on responding to the requests for assistance from these tribesWe respond with a systems-based approach to helping tribes build the capacity to dramatically improve the lives of their tribal members, leveraging the power of clean, regenerative energy in a way that harmonizes with Native culture and belief systems.

To understand their needs... We convene wisdom and expertise from broad disciplines, to help build the capacity of Native American communities to deploy clean energy in a self-determined way, and in a manner that is highly responsive to their unique cultural, economic, and energy systems.

To engage their tribal members... We work shoulder-to-shoulder with tribal councils, tribal colleges, and tribal members to establish robust and financially regenerative education and technical ecosystems, creating clean energy projects and infrastructure which create jobs for Native people, right in their own communities. 

To address their most critical needs... Our efforts have been designed to have rapid, positive impact on economic development, job creation, and the eradication of energy poverty in Native American communities.  Ultimately, tribal self-sufficiency is strengthened, sovereignty is preserved, hope is restored, and sacred covenants to preserve and protect Mother Earth are fulfilled.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

IEI is uniquely qualified to fulfill this important mission:

Credibility. IEI was originally founded as Covenant Solar Initiative in 2016 by Cheri Smith, a descendant of the Mi’Kmaq Tribe and former head of workforce development for Tesla and SolarCity.  IEI’s work is guided by accomplished Native American change makers: Chief Henry Red Cloud (Oglala Lakota Sioux), Dr. Richard Little Bear (Northern Cheyenne), Otto Braided Hair (Northern Cheyenne), Robert Blake (Red Lake Ojibwe) and Cody Two Bears (Standing Rock Sioux), each with a notable track record of resisting fossil fuel development and promoting and educating tribal communities about renewable energy. 

Experience. IEI has many years of on-the-ground experience working alongside tribal leaders and members in their communities, emphasizing the building of capacity of tribes to pursue energy independence, in a way that engages the local Native workforce and service providers.

Technical Expertise. The IEI team has deep technical expertise in energy master planning, renewable energy, smart grid systems, and energy efficiency, and has successfully completed major energy projects for the private energy sector and initiatives funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Science Foundation, as well as private foundations. 

Working for the Best Interest of Tribes. Renewable energy development can be almost as extractive as fossil fuel development if careful attention isn't paid to preventing exploitation of tribes by external developers looking only for financial gain. IEI is quite different.  We are Native-led, and purposefully run on philanthropy, enabling us to earn the trust of tribes, and provide significant energy planning, workforce development and clean energy project development support to tribes at no cost to them.  We are supported by many donors, including founding donors, Pazala Foundation.  We received a major grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2021. IEI is currently a fiscally-sponsored project of Earth Island Institute, and is in process of becoming an independent 501(c)(3) organization.


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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Lame Deer, MT, USA
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Our solution's stage of development:

Growth
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How many people does your solution currently serve?

Currently, IEI is engaged with 10 Native American tribes, with over 67,000 tribal members residing on the associated reservations. These engagements are at various stages of maturity.

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Why are you applying to Solve?

Solve’s Indigenous Communities Fellowship seeks solutions that consider both technology and traditional indigenous knowledge to support and scale positive impact in tribal communities. IEI is doing just that, by taking an inclusive, systems-based approach to addressing significant climate, economic, and energy challenges faced by Native American communities, leveraging the power of clean energy. Our first-of-its-kind approach supports ancient belief systems and couples indigenous wisdom with modern technology to solve some of the longest standing problems faced by Native American tribes.

Our team of Indigenous leaders and clean energy, education, and financial experts recognizes the value of strategic partnerships with academic institutions and their various communities - geographical, alumni, corporate, etc. - and is already leveraging this type of collaboration for the benefit of the communities we serve.  We're confident that being a part of the MIT Solve community would yield tremendous opportunities for collaboration with faculty and students on some of the more complex aspects of our work such as systems and financial modeling, as well as leveraging the MIT "megaphone" to amplify the voices of our partner tribal colleges and their Indigenous faculty members and students. 

IEI is financially supported by many individual donors, as well as foundations, including founding donors Pazala Foundation, and a major grant award in 2021 by the MacArthur Foundation.  Our goal is to secure an endowment for IEI, which would allow us to focus solely on our critical mission of building the capacity of tribes to achieve energy independence in a self-determined way.  We believe that being a part of the MIT Solve community will only serve to underscore the importance of this initiative, and bolster the effort to secure this level of funding.

We are also eager for connection with the constellations of individuals and organizations that make up the MIT universe! MIT faculty, Solve Members, the MIT alumni community, previous Fellows...

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)
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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Chéri Smith - Founder, Managing Director

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Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your Team Lead.

Cheri is a descendant of the Mi'Kmaq Tribe

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Is the Team Lead a resident of the United States?

Yes

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Strengthen sustainable energy sovereignty and support climate resilience initiatives by and for Indigenous peoples.

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More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

There are numerous challenges to developing clean energy at scale in tribal communities.  Traditionally, funding for solar development on reservations has been provided by the Federal government. Typically, these grants don’t provide enough money to cover the entire cost of a project, leaving tribes to find millions in matching funds.  Poor management also hampers these solar projects in the majority of cases.  

As such, Native American communities have been slow to make the oil- or coal-to-clean transition, despite the U.S. Department of Energy issuing an average of $7.8M in funding, annually. Financing these large projects is complicated. Typically, 50-50 partnerships are formed between a tribe and a project developer.  Unfortunately, there are countless examples of how this model has failed over the years, leaving tribes with unfinished projects littering the land, and indebtedness to the Federal government and well-intentioned (and not so well-intentioned) developers. 

Specific expertise is necessary to overcome some of these limitations. A deep understanding of tribal culture and governance, and significant technical and development savvy -- especially if we want to avoid falling into the same exploitative and discriminatory energy practices that have plagued Native American communities for over one hundred and sixty years.

Our innovative approach directly addresses these barriers.  Success in this endeavor by Native Americans will serve as inspiration and catalyst for indigenous communities all over the world to pursue clean, regenerative energy as a means to transform their energy systems in a way that promotes long-term economic development, health, wellbeing, and stewardship of Earth.

Our key strategies are unique, as they are focused on creating jobs and re-localizing energy economies so 100% of the money spent on energy remains within a tribal community, and the tribe actually earns a return on it.

Our engagement method is carefully aligned with the ways tribes have naturally evolved for centuries. We build relationships with tribal governments, tribal elders, educators and youth, to establish trust and acceptance, and design interventions tailored to each indigenous community’s unique conditions.

IEI's FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND APPROACH

Existing and previous efforts to deploy solar energy in Indian Country have largely focused on one-off, externally-managed projects that have value, but don’t address the core issues faced by Native communities.  

Working side-by-side with tribal leaders, we design customized programs, tailored to the unique needs of each tribe.  Our support services include:

1. Energy Master Planning: Assessment of existing social, economic, and ecological systems;  Mapping of existing energy infrastructure; Assessment of utility policies and programs;  Development of long-term energy master plans; Design of strategic projects leading to the incremental pursuit and realization of the energy master plan, and the establishment of tribal utilities. 

2. Capacity Building: Cultivating Native leaders who are empowered to guide energy transformation in their communities; Design of responsive and culturally sensitive training programs to engage tribal members in all facets of the energy industry; Empowerment of tribal schools and colleges to teach energy literacy and conduct job training that is culturally appropriate and aligned with planned renewable energy projects.  

3. Renewable Energy Project Development: Support tribes in the planning, design, financing, construction, and operation of renewable energy projects in a way that builds capacity and contributes to the continuous evolution of energy systems in their communities.  



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What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

The 5-year goal of this initiative is to positively impact 100,000 or more individuals' lives with the regenerative power of clean energy by engaging with at least 30 Native American tribes.  As the IEI model is both scaleable, replicable and can be deployed in virtually any community, and given the tremendous early success and positive response from numerous tribes on our "waitlist", we are very confident we will achieve and even surpass this goal. 

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

One of the most significant impacts IEI can have is influencing a tribe - leading by example - to commit to eschewing fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy.  The way tribal councils commit to significant changes on behalf of their tribal members is by making a formal "resolution".  

Resolutions aren't created haphazardly. Rather, they are carefully contemplated, sometimes for many years, and often disputed - as was the case for our founding partner Tribe, the Northern Cheyenne, who struggled with whether to mine the coal that could eradicate the rampant poverty their people endure. 

Therefore, when a resolution of this magnitude is enacted, it is simply profound.  Our goal is to encourage at least 5 tribes/year to enact resolutions committing to renewables.

Impact Goal: No Poverty 

Less money given to the utility companies  - who charge Native people two or three times as much as non-Natives - means more money in the pockets of needy families.  We aim to have a minimum of 50 homes/families/year benefitting from solar power.

Impact Goal: Decent Work & Economic Growth 

We are teaching tribes how to make investments in renewable energy infrastructure in a way that drives the evolution of tribal communities by creating jobs, promoting long-term economic development, mitigating climate change, and caring for future generations on Earth.  Our goal is that the initiative will induce a minimum of 12 jobs in each tribal community that we work in within the first year, and 100 within 5 years.


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What is your theory of change?

Indigenized Energy Initiative (IEI) is an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization with the mission of supporting Native American tribes on their self-determined path to energy independence, economic prosperity and a restoration of sovereignty and hope.

The primary problems we aim to solve are energy poverty and loss of self-reliance:

“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 dependent on outsiders for our survival.” Otto Braided Hair, Jr. Co-Creator Indigenized Energy Initiative

We engage in meaningful, trusting partnerships with tribal governments, traditional and spiritual leaders, and tribal members.

To bring about the change we all envision, we take a culturally-sensitive, holistic approach to deploying clean energy technology, economic development, education, and job creation.

 

The incremental effects we see include dramatic improvements in the lives of Native families stricken by poverty:

"Solar has been life changing for our family. The solar panels save us hundreds of dollars every month which we use for food, clothing and medicine. The IEI team introduced solar to our Tribe many years ago, and they are now teaching us how to implement it on our own so we can break away from the exploitation of the utility and create our own solar based economy. They are training our people for good solar jobs here on the Reservation." Anna Weasel Bear Old Crane Daughter of late Tribal Elder, Elsie Weasel Bear Recipient of the first IEI residential solar system The long-term effects of our work will result in systems-level changes in the way dozens of tribes develop and use their energy resources, so 100% of the money spent on energy stays within the tribal community

Ultimately, poverty is diminished, self-sufficiency is restored, sovereignty is preserved, and commitments by generations of Native people to preserve and protect Mother Earth are fulfilled.

Our strategy is to intervene in the existing discriminatory, outsider-led, extractive energy systems foisted on Native American tribes.

So that the capacity of tribes and their leaders, organizations, and individuals to plan, develop, and maintain renewable energy resources on their own is developed.

In a way that promotes long-term economic development and restores self-determination

So that as many Native American tribes as possible can achieve energy independence.

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Our model takes a culturally sensitive, inclusive, and systems based approach to addressing climate and energy challenges with clean energy -- primarily solar energy.  It supports ancient belief systems, while relying on modern solar technologies to solve some of indigenous Americans’ longest standing problems. 

Three factors are converging making this the ideal time to deploy this new approach to solar development in tribal communities: 

First, many American Indian tribes are on a trajectory towards extinction and are desperately in need of life-changing interventions in economic systems, as opposed to band-aid remedies.  

Second, as coal and other fossil fuel technologies continue to become less economically viable, displaced workers from these industries, including many members of American Indian tribes, are well positioned to become the workforce needed to deploy new energy technologies in their communities.  

Third, solar energy is now the lowest cost form of energy, and is a well-established reliable investment.  IEI is taking advantage of the convergence of these powerful dynamics, working to secure its place in the global effort to advance solar and other cutting-edge renewable energy technologies in the communities that can most benefit from their effects.

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Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Manufacturing Technology
  • Materials Science
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13. Climate Action
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In which states do you currently operate?

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Washington
  • Wyoming
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In which states will you be operating within the next year?

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
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Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

Currently we have 13 employees and work with a team of over 12 contractors.

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How long have you been working on your solution?

6 years, formally. 20 years, total.

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What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

We are -- to borrow the words of Margaret Meade -- a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who are committed to changing the world.  We are building a diverse group of staff, interns, volunteers (including industry executives), and advisors to work together towards our shared vision of vibrant and vital Native American communities. 

Weaving our experiences and skills together to strengthen the organization, we continually adjust to support one another and our constituents. While our team members come from many backgrounds, we unite around our shared values of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, which inform everything we do. 

That’s why we seek a “cultural knit” rather than a “cultural fit” in our hiring process. "Fit” suggests a search for a predefined candidate, a set puzzle piece that fits into an organizational jigsaw puzzle. We, instead, strive for a cultural knit, which invites our new team members to weave their unique experiences and skills into our intricate fabric. 

By weaving this cultural knit, our team gains the strength and resilience to address the root causes of energy poverty and climate injustice in tribal communities with our first-of-its-kind solution.  We continually strive to build capacity in each other, as well as the communities we serve, so we are strong enough to achieve our ambitious mission and vision. We adamantly believe solutions must be for the people, by the people, and with the people.

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Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

There is no template for what we are doing.  Our business model is unique, and driven by the following beliefs:

Since the earliest days of Western expansion and Manifest Destiny, the genocidal practices and oppression directed toward American Indian tribes have eroded the social and economic fabric of indigenous communities, leaving many impoverished, and perilously close to extinction.  

The regenerative effects of renewable energy have the potential to spark enduring change in American Indian communities, restoring our self-determination and independence.

Investments in renewable energy can be made in a way that drives the evolution of tribal communities by creating jobs, promoting long-term economic development, mitigating climate change, and caring for future generations on Earth.  

American Indian tribes have the potential to build our own capacity to plan, develop, and manage renewable energy assets, allowing us to achieve energy independence, and true sovereignty.

IEI’s mission is to empower American Indian tribes to transform our energy systems in a way that promotes long-term economic development and restores self-determination. Our approach is to grow the capacity of tribal leaders and organizations to plan, develop, and maintain renewable energy resources.  Our long-term vision is the achievement of energy independence by American Indian tribes. After many years working with Native American leaders to deploy solar demonstration projects in their communities, IEI is now supporting multiple American Indian tribes in their efforts towards energy independence.

HOW WE SUPPORT TRIBAL COMMUNITIES

1. Energy Master Planning: Assessment of existing social, economic, and ecological systems;  Mapping of existing energy infrastructure; Assessment of utility policies and programs;  Development of long-term energy master plans; Design of strategic projects leading to the incremental pursuit and realization of the energy master plan, and the establishment of tribal utilities.

2. Capacity Building: Cultivating Native leaders who are empowered to guide energy transformation in their communities; Design of responsive and culturally sensitive training programs to engage tribal members in all facets of the energy industry; Empowerment of tribal schools and colleges to teach energy literacy and conduct job training that is culturally appropriate and aligned with planned renewable energy projects. 

3. Renewable Energy Project Development: Support tribes in the planning, design, financing, construction, and operation of renewable energy projects in a way that builds capacity and contributes to the continuous evolution of energy systems in their communities. 

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Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Government (B2G)
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What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

We are Native-led, and purposefully run on philanthropy, enabling us to earn the trust of tribes, and provide significant energy planning, workforce development and clean energy project development support to tribes at no cost to them.  We are supported by many donors, including founding donors, Pazala Foundation.  We received a major grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2021. IEI is currently a fiscally-sponsored project of Earth Island Institute, and is in process of becoming an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

We are in conversation with select foundations, high-net-worth donors, and institutions about securing an endowment for IEI.  This work is critical, and deserves this level of support.  

When donors endow nonprofits with a pool of money that pays out 5 percent annually over many years, they set those organizations up for long-term success. Unfortunately, social change organizations like IEI that are grappling with life-or-death challenges typically are offered just a humble slice of the endowment pie.  BIPOC-led social change organizations traditionally receive a pittance.  The result is that philanthropy too often forfeits their true potential, for many reasons, but especially because the BIPOC leaders of organizations like IEI often come from the communities they serve and know best how to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our constituents.  

We are committed to securing an endowment for IEI, for the benefit of Native American people.

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Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

We have received over $500,000 in support from our founding donor, Pazala Foundation.  We received a $775,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation in August 2021.  We currently have an additional $500,000 pledged from various donors for 2022.  

We have just hired a development team of 4 individuals, dedicated to raising a minimum of $100,000/month.

We also receive fees-for-service which come from the federal funding we procure on behalf of tribes.  This revenue currently totals about $100,000, annually, but will increase exponentially with the number of tribes we are supporting.

We are serious about our mission, devoted to the communities we serve, and we will be successful in supporting both.

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Solution Team

  • Ms. Cheri Smith Founder, Indigenized Energy Initiative
 
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