Chief Henry Red Cloud
Red Cloud - Oglala, photographed by Edward S. Curtis and his great-great-grandson, Chief Henry Red Cloud,
by John Graybill for The Descendants Project (right). Descendants photo © Curtis Legacy Foundation 2019
Chief Henry Red Cloud
Chief Red Cloud (1822–1909) and his great-great-grandson Chief Henry Red Cloud (b. 1960) share more than the namesake of a celebrated war chief. The hallmark of their sacred alliance is the preservation of Mother Earth. For Red Cloud, protecting the land “where the buffalo roam” was life-sustaining for his Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe, as these majestic animals provided essential food, clothing, and shelter. Upon learning of a Congressional bill that authorized building a guarded road in the middle of pristine buffalo hunting grounds so that California gold could be transported eastward, Red Cloud fought back against the encroachment of the White man. Gruesome battles ensued, but arrows were no match for bullets.
In 1868, Red Cloud signed the Laramie Treaty and his tribe settled on 3,500 square miles of land known today as the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When Red Cloud was nearing the end of his life, Curtis poignantly captured his worn yet still proud spirit with his camera, but there was more to that story. In his introduction to Volume 3 of The North American Indian, Curtis conveyed the sadness of the aftermath: “Powerful in numbers and vigorous in spirit, they [Lakota] roamed almost at will. But in a brief time, all was altered. The game had vanished; under treaty stipulations which the Indians ill-understood, they were concentrated on reservations beyond the boundaries of which they must not wander, and became dependents of the Nation, to be fed and clothed according to our interpretation of the compact.”
Walking alongside the big footsteps of his great-great-grandfather, Henry Red Cloud, newly-selected Chief of the Oglala Lakota, has been waging a 21st century battle of his own—energy independence—and he is accumulating a pile of accolades along the way. Henry has a deep understanding of poverty, as those living on Pine Ridge are among the poorest Americans. He witnessed families spending too much of their precious incomes on home heating with fossil fuels. As a result, Henry founded Lakota Solar Enterprises, which builds and provides stand-alone solar heating units to Pine Ridge families and established the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center to train Indigenous Peoples on renewable energy applications.
Henry embodies a deeply rooted concern for the environment, which began as a young boy listening to an Elder’s vision quest about “making clouds”: “these clouds are going to circle the Earth and clash together. When that clash happens, there’s going to be some severe storms.” Today, Henry understands the meaning of that long-ago vision quest this way: “We’ve got to be polluting the air, making clouds and creating this climate change effect on us.” Much like his elder grandfather, Henry’s mission involves “protecting the Earth because if we don’t, then our way of life that we know today can be no more.” To meet this challenge, he beckons all of us to “exercise your power, your spirit, and get out of line.” Following Henry’s example, we each need to do something to combat climate change, stop waiting in line for someone else to do it. “If we are going to survive, we’ve got to start moving forward and move forward together. It’s seriously time to get out of line.”
by Dr. Shawn Pohlman