RS DS Cruz

Dreamstarter Working for Clean Energy

Indigenous peoples are the original earth protectors and activists for Environmental Justice causes. Native communities are also the most vulnerable populations facing the negative impacts of climate change due to displacement from their traditional homelands and systematic cultural erasure. The resulting conditions are a lack of infrastructure on reservations, poor economic conditions/opportunities, and a loss of traditional knowledge for many tribes.

To protect and empower native communities we must combat climate change with more sustainable options like solar energy. Solar energy use, especially in private homes, has been steadily on the rise since the solar federal tax credit was introduced in 2006.  However, the current model for solar panels is not the perfect solution. As solar panels begin to age out, there is the issue of how to dispose of and recycle these old panels properly and efficiently. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency large amounts of annual waste from solar panels could present an issue as soon as the early 2023s. One 2023 Dreamstarter is on a mission to rethink the current model with Native Science at the helm.

Dreamstarter 2023 Cruz Tecumseh Collin of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota is a second-generation scientist and activist. Cruz’s dream is to use traditional Lakota knowledge to develop a truly sustainable solar panel, that will directly improve the lives of his Oglala Lakota people, and address issues of global climate change. Oglala Lakota County, where the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located, is the poorest county in the nation. Even today, some residents are not connected to main water lines, and many families struggle to pay gas and power bills. Providing residents with this new kind of solar panel will ensure that critical power is being delivered in a way that is aligned with Lakota principals and Cruz’s mission for Environmental Justice. Cruz has recently completed his at-home lab and has begun testing natural materials against popular solar panels to determine which materials are able to harness the most energy, from which he will build his prototype. Cruz is dedicated to connecting with and supporting his community through his Dreamstarter project. He has been consulting Lakota Elders throughout the process and has established a pool of mentors that will help guide him in his work. He has also begun talks with local businesses that can provide services and materials needed for building his prototype. Already, Cruz has filed two provisional patents for alternative energy systems and is working on obtaining a full patent as he completes the prototype.  Eventually, Cruz hopes to fabricate these solar panels in Pine Ridge, providing opportunity for high paying jobs to his people.

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