The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Chief Henry Red Cloud shares sustainable housing project for Indigenous nations

Over 100 attendees filed into the First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana on Monday night to hear Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota Nation deliver a lecture about sustainable housing programs for Indigenous nations.

The event was co-sponsored by the First Mennonite Church and the American Indian Studies Program.

Red Cloud was recently featured on the PBS documentary series “Native America” in the season two premiere episode, “New Worlds,”  on Oct. 24.

During his lecture, he told the story of how he founded Red Cloud Renewable in 2008, an environmental justice nonprofit based in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. 

Red Cloud was born and raised on the reservation, but after graduating high school, he had difficulty finding a job. So, he left the reservation and worked as a structural steelworker for 15 years until he said he felt the calling to return home. 

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“I decided that I would try to do something as a 21st-century warrior and bring resources back,” Red Cloud said in his speech. 

This led to him founding Red Cloud Renewable, which has worked with 70 tribes and created over 500 jobs for Native Americans. 

There are three pillars of projects the organization works on, which include solar energy education, which trains Native Americans to bring clean energy and jobs to their tribes; The Native to Native Energy Sovereignty Weatherization program, which is grant-funded by the Department of Energy; and sustainable, affordable homebuilding. 

Chief Red Cloud mentioned the education program has engaged over 1,400 students and teaches them about solar energy and its practical applications.

The Weatherization program, led by an all-Native American crew, aims to provide assessments and retrofits for households, reducing their financial burden from domestic energy expenses.

According to Chief Red Cloud, the Weatherization program received $1.9 million in federal funding from the Department of Energy

The PBS documentary episode “New Worlds” highlighted the homes built by the Lakota Thiyuha Project, Red Cloud Renewable’s homebuilding project. The homes are dome-shaped and modeled after traditional tipis.

The long-term plan is for the homes to be connected in a circle where residents can gather to meet in the middle. The homes run on solar power, which can keep the energy bill down to $30 a month during the cold seasons.

Janet Elaine Guthrie, arranger of the event and chair for the racial justice task force at the First Mennonite Church, met Red Cloud through mutual friends and had a chance to go see the Pine Ridge Reservation and Oglala Lakota College. 

“We saw that there is a lot of focus on education and encouraging young people, and we also saw what Chief Red Cloud said, there’s a lot of poverty and a lot of people who need housing and who need jobs,” Guthrie said.

Recently, one of the Red Cloud Renewable affordable homes was provided to a young family that had been living in a school bus. 

“All changes only come from the grassroot people,” Red Cloud said. “If there’s a change to be made we can’t wait in line or wait for somebody to make a change for us. We gotta do that ourselves.”

The concept of the sustainable housing program revolves around empowering energy independence for Native American families, which encourages people to share excess energy with their community, Chief Red Cloud said.

Red Cloud Renewable offers scholarships for students enrolling in their training programs as well as a lab environment for hands-on practice. It also incorporates Indigenous language, music, ceremony and culture in its training. 

Because November is Native American Heritage Month, the Native American House and American Indian Studies Program will host events all throughout the month to celebrate. 

Every week in November, there will be lectures on Native and Indigenous topics focused on sovereignty and self-determination happening all around campus. There will also be Native themed meals happening in the dining halls and other various events including a month-long book drive.

Native American Heritage Month | Native American House | UIUC (



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