Oct 03, 2017

It’s important to find a balance between humans and the natural environment. As technology evolves, being successful also means being sustainable for our communities and all the generations to come. Creating as much clean energy as we use, “net zero energy,” is a great example of the balance. We’re a living example of this at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute.

Stories_Cassandra_Sotry_featured.pngLocated on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the institute is a place to learn the history and cultures of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes, who have inhabited this land for millennia. The Institute was built in 1998 and was constructed in a way that is not as energy efficient as we now would like it to be. The journey to become net-zero really started with a facilities maintenance staff member, Michael Cooper, who was educated in the benefits of renewable energy and really got the project going. This is truly part of his legacy due to the fact he passed away before seeing the wind turbine completed.

At Tamástslikt Cultural Institute becoming energy neutral means our facility will not cost the Tribe anything in terms of utilities and will lessen our impact on the land. We have been working to reduce our carbon footprint since 2003. Between 2003 and 2012, our non-profit avoided $409,117 in electricity costs. As preservation and maintenance of our museum collection items is costly, these savings are significant.

In 2012, Tribal land-use code was revised to allow for small wind towers with a stringent planning and reviewing process to ensure a minimal footprint in natural areas. We installed a 50 kW Endurance wind turbine, which offsets about 20% of our electrical usage!

To offset more of our energy use, we looked to solar. The Hîisemtuks Project is our solar carport project, which provides shade to parked cars and offsets about 56.5% of our electrical usage. Hîisemtuks means sun and moon in our language. Our contractor was able to hire a Tribal member, who had just completed welding training, to install the solar project in April of 2016.

People love it and we would love to expand on it if additional funds were available. It’s great for Tribal members to see what’s going into these projects on their homeland. They feel ownership for it, rather than watching something come in and being apart from them. Tribal members are also working on our new Yellowhawk Tribal Health Clinic too, which is also striving to be a net-zero facility and will be applying for grants to put in solar panels.

A lot of native people want to be able to say, “look what we’ve been able to do”. Showing people the numbers for what we have already done to reduce our impact on the land and save money really shows that it’s working and even exceeding our expectations. We’re harnessing the natural resources we already have. We hope to continue moving our projects forward and could do that with access to additional investment from Clean Energy Jobs.