Solar Bear is a Native owned solar installation company based in both Minneapolis and Red Lake tribal reservation. Its mission addresses several aspects of community development including social impact, sustainability, workforce development, and diversity.
Solar Bear was founded as a means to utilize renewable energy as a key economic force in the Red Lake Nation, Minnesota, and across Turtle Island. As the climate crisis worsens, Minnesota is going to experience more extreme weather that puts additional strain on the energy grid. Solar power is a way to give ownership to the community, especially when everything we use requires electricity. When you own your own power, you have power. We have to adapt to that future by decentralizing the grid, but also give people in the community job opportunities that provide purpose, a way to serve, and something to contribute. Solar energy is a disruptive technology, and the most efficient way to use electricity is to consume it at the source while reducing our use of fossil fuels.
One example is the Just Solar Returning Citizens Initiative, which is a partnership between Solar Bear, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, Midwest Renewable energy Association, and the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) to train formerly incarcerated individuals the skills of solar installation and site evaluation, eventually awarding them with a solar PVC certificate from the Minnesota DOC. The goals of the program are to challenge the prison industrial complex, break the cycle of recidivism, and fight climate change. See more
In addition, Solar Bear has already installed a 70kw solar system on the Red Lake Tribal Government Center and currently has several more installations planned at schools, colleges, and casinos around Red Lake Nation. We are also in discussion with Little Earth of United Tribes in Minneapolis about an upcoming project, and host trainings for others to bring solar into their community.
About 10 years ago my brother passed away and I became a surrogate father to his 5 kids. I wanted to make the world a better place for them and so I thought I’ll try and solve the climate crisis. I realized that this was a bit more complicated than just installing solar panels. I then realized that tribal nations could actually lead in this area and are perfect for large industrial-scale solar projects. Since then, Solar Bear was developed as a means to tackle the root causes of poverty and move my community in a new direction towards entrepreneurship, health, and a model for other communities. My hope is all tribal communities will adopt a pro-green initiative and will set an example for our future generations that caring for mother earth is our duty as native people.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT | INFRASTRUCTURE
Solar Bear’s work actually connects all aspects of the Minnesota Equity Blueprint, but economic development and infrastructure stand out as the obvious two issue areas we are connecting. We’re using solar infrastructure to drive transformative economic growth in Red Lake Nation and beyond.
Into the future
My vision is for our community to own its own energy co-op company and replace all the electric energy from coal, now and in the future, with solar energy. I would like to see Red Lake’s solar infrastructure as a model for other Tribal Nations, Minnesota, and the country. Eventually, the hope is to develop a Tribal Utilities Commission that works alongside with the Public Utilities Commission to make important decisions regarding energy infrastructure.
In addition, I’m currently running for City Council Ward 5 in St. Paul and whatever the outcome, I hope to take my experience and teach other Native people how to run for office. We can’t physically take back the land that was stolen, but we have the opportunity to stand up and take back this land morally with energy democracy.