Indigenized Energy Initiative (IEI), an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization with the mission of supporting Native American tribes on their self-determined path to energy independence, economic prosperity, and a restoration of sovereignty and hope, announced today that Founder and CEO Chéri Smith has been selected as a 2022 MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellow.
Solve is an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a mission to drive innovation to solve world challenges. Solve’s Indigenous Communities Fellowship seeks solutions that consider both technology and traditional Indigenous knowledge to support and scale positive impact in tribal communities.
“Chéri Smith was selected because she and her team are taking an inclusive, systems-based approach to leveraging the power of clean energy to address significant climate, economic, and energy challenges faced by Native American communities,” said Aaron Slater, senior officer, Indigenous Communities, for MIT Solve. IEI aims to address the primary problems of energy poverty and loss of self-reliance with a first-of-its-kind approach that supports ancient belief systems and couples Indigenous wisdom with modern technology to solve some of the longest standing problems faced by Native American tribes.
“I am humbled and honored to be selected as a 2022 MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellow,” said Chéri Smith, IEI founder, CEO, and descendant of the Mi’Kmaq Tribe. “But this fellowship is not about me, or even IEI. This fellowship represents a watershed moment, when a world-class technical institution like MIT has recognized the critical need for the work we are doing supporting tribes in their efforts to move away from extractive and exploitative fossil fueled energy, in a self-determined way. Our Indigenous-led team of clean energy, education, and financial experts recognizes the tremendous value and important role that strategic partnerships have in this initiative, and we are so appreciative for the tremendous opportunities and resources that being part of the MIT Solve community will yield for collaboration on some of the more complex aspects of our work.”
To bring about change, IEI takes a culturally sensitive, holistic approach to deploying clean energy technology, economic development, education, and job creation. IEI helps expand the capacity of American Indian tribes to develop workforces of tribal members and create Native-owned green businesses, enabling tribes and their members to reap 100 percent of the benefits of clean energy and to keep every dollar spent on energy circulating in the community.
Smith originally founded the organization as Covenant Solar Initiative in 2016, in response to the inspiring leadership of American Indian tribes in resisting fossil fuels and the growing desire to realize the regenerative potential of renewable energy on tribal lands. After many years working with Native American leaders to deploy solar demonstration projects in their communities, IEI is now supporting multiple Native American tribes in their efforts to develop energy master plans, strategic energy projects, and job training for a workforce of tribal member “Solar Warriors” – tribal member installers who will go on to build this new clean energy infrastructure for their communities. “For our country to truly have a just transition, it is essential that this development be done by Native people, for Native people,” Smith said.
Over $2 million in prize funding was awarded to the 2022 Solver teams and Indigenous Communities Fellows as well as select Solver teams from previous classes. Indigenized Energy Initiative was named a recipient of the The GM Prize supported by General Motors and is a finalist for The Elevate Prize – supported by The Elevate Prize Foundation Finalists (recipient to be announced in January 2023).
“Our goal is to secure an endowment for the initiative, which would allow the focus to be solely on its critical mission of building the capacity of tribes to achieve energy independence in the shortest amount of time,” added Smith. “$10 million per year for 10 years would be a good start, and enable us to support as many of the 574 federally recognized tribes who seek our help. The impact we can have is only limited by our own capacity. We believe that being a part of the MIT Solve community will only serve to underscore the importance of this initiative, and bolster the effort to secure this level of funding.”