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WATCH: Standing Rock’s Huge Potential for Sustainability and Renewable Energy

Watch Oceti Sakowin Solve Fellow Kimberlynn Cameron pitch her Sustainable Community Development on Standing Rock project in May, 2018 at Solve at MIT.


Good morning, everyone.

As you may have heard, my name is Kimberlynn Cameron. I’m an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. And I grew up in Wakpala, SD, on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about Standing Rock and the protests, as it was thrust into the national spotlight. But because there is much more to Standing Rock than just what the headlines have shown, I wanted to give you a more complete picture of the place where I grew up, and explain some of the other, less-publicized challenges and opportunities that my community faces.

On Standing Rock, health issues like diabetes and heart disease disproportionately affect the American Indian population. These diseases are brought on, in part, by lack of adequate nutrition. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture designates Standing Rock, Pine Ridge, and Rosebud Sioux Reservations as low-income and low-access food deserts.

The counties within these reservations are also among the poorest counties in both North and South Dakota. While poverty is prevalent on the reservation, there is also a significant lack of adequate and available housing. Sometimes you have up to three to four families living in a single home.

The cost of living can be high on the reservation. With South Dakota’s extreme weather conditions in the winter months, it’s not hard to imagine the large amount of energy needed to keep poorly insulated houses within the communities warm.

With money tight, many families need additional funding to help offset these energy needs. Families can typically spend 30 to 40 percent of their annual income on housing, which is three to four times the rate of what the national percentage is to be considered to be in poverty, in terms of spending on energy, which is 10 percent.

That’s a huge difference.

Growing up, seeing my family struggle, as a child I thought to myself, there just has to be a better way to heat our homes that doesn’t cost so much.

That’s been an idea that’s never left me. And today, I stand here as an Oceti Sakowin Solve Fellow who is developing a multifaceted systemic-solutions approach to address the need for a sustainable community-scale housing initiative, as well as to develop a year-round, net-zero greenhouse operation for economic growth that utilizes the tribe’s renewable energy resources to offset our commercial and residential energy demands.

Currently, I am a graduate student at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and I am studying sustainable tribal community development. South Dakota is the perfect setting for such creative thinking. The high winds that move freely across both North and South Dakota prairies provide a considerable and largely untapped wind energy resource in addition to underdeveloped geothermal and solar resources.

There is huge potential for renewable energy on Standing Rock, as well as economic development. And it is my vision to bridge who we are as a native people with the renewable technologies that are within our grasp to preserve our culture and create a sustainable future for our people.

I truly believe that the native relationship with the land is one that is respectful and reciprocal. If we take care of the land, the land will take care of us.

Kimberlynn Cameron speaks at the "Healthy Planet, Healthy People" plenary during Solve at MIT, May 17, 2018. (Photo: Adam Schultz / MIT Solve)

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