Healing Power of the Sun

On a sunny day in Duluth, snow falls on newly installed solar panels at  AICHO (American Indian Community Housing Organization). AICHO focuses on holistic housing, including educational and cultural programs, as well as sustainability lessons. Their overarching philosophy is that each American Indian woman and child deserves a safe environment in which to live and be treated with dignity, respect, and kindness.  AICHO provides housing services to people suffering from chronic homelessness and survivors of domestic abuse.

In fact, there is a battered women’s shelter incorporated into the layout of the facility, fully equipped with beds and mental health experts. Space is held for Native artists to express themselves and heal through a creative process, and there is a small garden where participants can grow traditional tobacco and sage in order to remain connected with their culture and honor Indigenous people. Now their building and the work for justice and healing is powered by the sun.

AICHO’s partners train people in the community to install solar panels, providing them with jobs and the knowledge integral to living sustainable lives. This is part of their educational empowerment programming and serves to use solar as a means to honor traditional American Indian values of care for the earth.

AICHO recently received a $25,000 grant to install solar panels, change lightbulbs, and making the building itself as energy efficient as possible. The estimated solar and energy efficiency savings adds up to roughly 40,000 kWH/year, which is equivalent to the energy usage of about four average Minnesotan homes. This will save AICHO around $3,500/year in utility bill savings, which will allow for a larger budget to be allotted to education, cultural, sustainability, and empowerment programs throughout the organization and facility.

MNIPL Arrowhead members were key partners in this project. In 2016 and early 2017 they petitioned the MN Public Utilities Commission to ask MN Power to invest in low-income solar, and they won! They served on the planning team for the project and were able to raise over $6,000 for the array! MNIPL led Just Coalition Solar developed, RREAL, led the building of the array. Here you can see the great lunch provided by Arrowhead MNIPL volunteers that kept the crew moving during construction.

AICHO is doing incredible work with and for the American Indian community, engaging in holistic methods to addressing multi-layered issues. Speaking with the organizers working on the AICHO array was inspiring, and their optimistic energy regarding solar and AICHO as an organization left me feeling hopeful for the future and proud to be a small part of MNIPL. By examining cultural, social, and environmental factors, AICHO is brightening all of our futures, one light bulb and one solar panel at a time.