U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
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Wind Stakeholder Interview: Rosebud Reservation

Photo of Ronald L. Neiss

Ronald L. Neiss, Rosebud Utility Commission President, Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota.

Wind Stakeholder Interview: Rosebud Reservation

Date: 1/1/2002

Location: SD

"In evaluating the potential of wind energy generation, Native Americans realize that wind power is not only consistent with our cultural values and spiritual beliefs, it can also be a means of achieving Native sustainable homeland economies." Ronald L. Neiss, Rosebud Utility Commission President, Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota.

My name is Ronald L. Neiss. I am an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, through my father's family, and live in the Rosebud Community on the Rosebud Reservation. The Rosebud Reservation is located west of the Missouri River and is bordered by the state of South Dakota to the north, Nebraska to the south and the original boundaries of the Ogallala Reservation to the west.

I was honored to be selected to serve as the president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Utility Commission upon the passing of our previous president Alex "Little Soldier" Lunderman into the Spirit World.   Alex was also a tribal president and vice president. He fully supported the Tribe's gathering of wind data in 1995 and the Rosebud/DOE Wind Demonstration Project, which is scheduled for completion by this summer (2002).  Wind development was a part of his vision for the Sicangu Oyate (Burnt Thigh Lakota People) on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He believed we could use modern technology as well as our resources in a way that is compatible with our history, our philosophy, and our cultural and spiritual values. In a vision, he saw a long line of people behind him walking toward a traditional tipi. Inside the tipi were computers and other kinds of technologies that could be used by our people to protect our Mother Earth. He later told us that being able to generate clean electricity from the Four Winds could help our people. With the Rosebud Wind Project, we are trying to make his vision a reality by using the tremendous wind resource on the reservation in a good way.

The wind is always blowing on the Rosebud Reservation.  An elder from a southwest Pueblo once said to me, "Say, all your animals up here kind of lean over to one side. Do they fall over when the wind stops?" I answered, "We don't know... it never stops blowing."

When the Tribe spent its own money to install an anemometer to collect wind data in the mid-1990s, we learned that we had a class six wind resource on our reservation. We later found out through the wind mapping of North and South Dakota by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that in just one county of our reservation, we have a wind potential of over 35,000 megawatts. That is many times over the installed capacity of the dams on the Missouri River.

Tribal lands were flooded and whole communities had to move when the dams were built, and we are still being harmed by those dams. My own family still suffers today when the graves of our relatives are violated by the changes in water levels behind the Fort Randall hydroelectric dam where the White Swan Community once stood. I am related to the Yanktonai on my mother's side of the family. We see that wind power can produce electricity without flooding our lands or without digging up Mother Earth and burning her coal, gas, and oil. It is about time the tribes took control of their resources.

It is part of the federal government's trust responsibility to assist us in developing our resources in a sustainable way.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) never assessed our wind resources. It was never a priority.The Rosebud Wind Project is something the Tribe started on its own. Now, working with the Department of Energy, we are installing a utility-scale wind turbine on the reservation.  We are also working with the Rural Utility Service for a loan to help pay for the project. The loan will be repaid from the sale of the power. We would also like to work with other parts of the federal government, like the Western Area Power Administration, to gain access to the federal transmission grid that crosses our reservation. That utility grid is our "farm to market" road for a 21st century product we can produce here on our reservation. We would like to be able to sell "Red Green Power" to the federal agencies and others that have green power requirements.

Generating our own energy will help our tribe develop a sustainable homeland economy on the reservation in the short term and strengthen our tribal sovereignty in the long term.  A tribe is only as sovereign as its economy and finances permit.  One of our tribal goals is energy self-sufficiency, and developing our renewable energy resources will help us achieve that goal. What better way is there than using non-polluting tools for economic development?  Sometimes Indians are called to be the "Stewards of the Earth." But are we really?   As my cousin, James "Tony" Iron Shell, says the Lakota are the Tateya Topa Ho Oyate - the Voice of the Four Winds People.That's quite a responsibility to live up to!

Many people are excited that we are developing renewable energy on the Rosebud. But there are also many skeptics.These things take time and education. Many people in South Dakota need to learn more about this state's potential to generate clean energy. South Dakota is still in the frontier stage in more ways than one. The first time I saw modern wind turbines was when they appeared in a scene in the movie "48 Hours" set in California. I remember wondering: "What the heck are they?" When we first began looking into wind power here, there were those who told us that it would never work.  The more I have learned and the more this tribal project has progressed, I have become driven to make believers out of those skeptics.

We are scheduling a "Blade Turning" event for when we commission our first 750 kW NEG Micon in early summer. A single turbine is a small step considering our tremendous potential, but it will give everyone a chance to "kick the tires" and to think about bigger projects. I like how Rosebud can help lead the way for all tribes toward a sustainable homeland economy based upon an inexhaustible, non-polluting resource. I like how we can help bring one of our respected elder's visions to reality, and am glad that we can live up to our responsibilities as the Voice of the Four Winds People. We have proposed that the Rosebud Wind Project be officially named in President Little Soldier's honor. Our wind turbine will stand tall as a working symbol of tribal accomplishment for our future generations.

This information was last updated on August 02, 2011