2023 Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Cruz Collin, 19, (Oglala Sioux) of Florence, Alabama, has a dream “to help Indigenous Peoples lead the world toward a sustainable future through the implementation of our sciences and traditional knowledge.”
It’s called “Sustainably Powering Rural Native Communities” and Cruz will be using his $20,000 Dreamstarter grant to “build and test a modified solar technology that is sustainably produced and is not environmentally harmful in its disposal.”
Cruz says this innovative design is cost-effective and produces more electricity than current solar panels and will help strengthen tribal sovereignty.
“It will also ensure that once installed, renewable and sustainable power is being delivered in a way that is aligned with my Lakota scientific principles and mission to protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) and all life.”
Cruz added, “This design has the potential to provide high paying jobs to people on my reservation, which like many reservations, suffers from a lack of economic opportunity.
“This product can help solve this problem, and it has the power to serve as the start of a solution to the world’s energy crisis.”
Cruz Tecumseh Collin (Lakota name Wankantuya Keya) told us that ever since he was a young boy he loved nature and dreamed of making the world a better place.
“As a child I was always in the woods observing Mother Nature and the intricate wonders and systems she creates,” said Cruz. “When I was young I did not realize that the principles of sustainability and working with nature’s natural systems that I was learning about and experiencing were the core of our Lakota ways.”
At the age of 6, he was brought into his Lakota ceremonies when he went to his first Sundance where he instantly felt at home watching the ceremony and supporting the dancers. “There was something so familiar about it, and it made me feel so happy, safe, and free.”
“Because of this love for my cultural ways, I was allowed to fully participate in the ceremony when I was 9 years old. Ever since that time, Sundance has been my intellectual, spiritual, and scientific anchor.
“It has allowed me to hold onto my traditions and the ways of my ancestors in a world that seeks to induct people into mainstream society.”
His first goal for his Dreamstarter project is to construct a working prototype solar panel that is not only sustainable and less expensive to produce, “but also creates less environmental harm in its manufacture and disposal than current solar technology on the market.
His second goal is “to show the world that Lakota knowledge is applicable within the mainstream sciences and technology sector.” Lakota scientists have been protecting their land for centuries, and Cruz knows that Indigenous Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge taught by his ancestors will continue to protect the environment for years to come.
“The success of this technology and the successful implementation of Lakota scientific methods, methodologies, and energy knowledge will be tangible proof that the Lakota have something very important to offer the technology sector. That ‘something’ could be the start of an energy and scientific revolution.”
His third goal is to incorporate his Indigenous Lakota elders into the process and get their feedback on the designs and testing results.
“This is because I know for a fact I do not know everything, and it is crucial to me that I make this technology as aligned with my Lakota ways and teachings as possible so a real cross-cultural technological prototype can be produced.”
Through his work, Cruz will demonstrate to his “elders that their work to preserve our culture and lifeways was worth it, and that it could be the key to saving the world and protecting all life.”
Through his Dreamstarter project, he also wants to remind his Lakota people that the knowledge they hold is powerful. “There is an opening right now for us to step forward because the world is in trouble,” said Cruz. “Programs like this Dreamstarter opportunity reflect this opening and show us that it is time for this shift.”
Cruz’s mentor organization, Sacred Healing Circle, which was co-founded by his parents (his mentor is his mother, Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin), is a longtime partner of Running Strong. His grandmother Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook and great-grandfather Chief Joe American Horse remain strong and respected leaders in the Oglala Lakota community.
“The use of Lakota scientific methods, methodologies, and practices, combined with my love for the sciences and my Western schooling, has given me the ability to see solutions to global issues that others simply cannot.”
“I now realize that this ability to cross-culturally correlate innovations with Indigenous and Western knowledge is the key to creating a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable future.
“My love for defending Unci Maka will never leave me, as it has become who I am.”