Organization to begin training Native American women for solar careers

Small Towns

There’s a strong belief in honoring the sun in the Lakota culture.

“If you don’t have the sun shining, you can’t have plants and flowers and photosynthesis,” said John Red Cloud, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. “It’s responsible for all of life.”

In 1995, John’s father, Henry Red Cloud, saw a solar furnace in action and realized the sun had another useful purpose as an energy source, which he believed might fill a need on the Pine Ridge Reservation and help cut down on residents’ energy costs. 

“My dad got the schematics for the solar furnace and adapted it using local materials, and started creating them,” John said.

In 2008, Henry and John began offering solar furnace-building training to Tribe members. Other projects and training followed, and in 2017 Red Cloud Renewable (RCR), located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, received its nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service.

“Today our focus is on providing that workforce development component and helping Tribal members and those in rural communities have a foothold in the solar industry by providing them with hands-on training so they can be solar installers, or as my dad likes to call them ‘solar warriors,’” said John, managing director.

Thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, RCR will begin offering training to Native American women, “solar warriors” who may have previously experienced barriers.

Family responsibilities often keep Native American women from participating in the workforce. But John was inspired to create a solar training program for them by the story of Jan Scott, a Navajo Nation member, mother, and lead solar installer at a company in Boulder, Colorado. 

According to the 2021 Solar Census Jobs Report, Native American women represent less than one-half percent of the solar workforce. Barriers include support with child care and travel expenses, which RCR’s program will provide.

“If you are a young mother or a single mother, that shouldn’t stand in your way of pursuing a family-sustaining career,” John said.

The Bridging Renewable Industry Divides in Gender Equality Program aims to train 72 Native women over the next three years.

Upon successful completion of the program, the women will be rooftop-ready solar installers who, under the mentorship of industry experts, will work to install units in the community before moving on to the next step in their careers. RCR will work with Amicus, a 73-member solar cooperative, to help the women secure jobs.

John hopes other groups will use RCR’s framework to train more community members, such as veterans, because demand is increasing.

“There are not enough trained installers walking the earth right now to put in the amount of solar that is expected in this country by 2050,” he said. “They have to triple or quadruple the current workforce to meet that demand.”

Feature photo: Henry Red Cloud and John Red Cloud offer solar furnace-building training through Red Cloud Renewable, a nonprofit located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The nonprofit was recently granted $1.5 million to expand the offering to Native American women, “solar warriors” who may have previously experienced barriers.  |  Photo submitted