RED LAKE, Minn. -- In an effort to connect Red Lake, Standing Rock and other tribal nations throughout the upper Midwest with electronic vehicle charging stations, Minneapolis-based Native Sun Community Power Development and over two dozen of its partners will make use of a recently awarded $6.67 million from the U.S. Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Office.

“This is a great example of direct federal spending on new infrastructure in underserved communities,” Native Sun Executive Director Bob Blake said in a release. “Native Sun and our partners hope to see more projects like this replicated around the country with more tribal communities and reservations.”

The DOE awarded $200 million to organizations across the U.S. basing their award amounts on project feasibility, positive impact and other factors. Native Sun received the largest award according to a news conference with DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Expected to commence in early 2022 and taking place over a three-year funding period, the project will add EV charging stations on frequently traveled routes from the Red Lake and Standing Rock Nations to critical destinations and along the Native American Scenic Byway as a resource for those in the upper Midwest region, a release said.

The installation of these stations will be facilitated with the help of project partners including the Standing Rock Renewable Energy Power Authority, Red Lake Fishery, American Lung Association, Xcel Energy, Otter Tail Power and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, among several others.

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These partners will install 59 fast-charging hubs and 63 level two electric vehicle charging stations. Additional education and outreach engagement at 52 events throughout three years will aim to reach more than 10,000 attendees to support broader access to EVs.

Blake added that, “each organization brings a specific expertise to the table. When thinking about putting together a charging network, it seems it’s a great idea. But how do we implement it? That’s when we bring in some experts.”

The project will also deploy 19 new EVs and related equipment by tribal governments, utilities, schools and businesses.

Impact for residents

Though he currently lives in Minneapolis, Blake is a member of the Red Lake Nation. As such, he is eager to bring not only cleaner energy but more economic development to rural areas and small towns.

“This is the start, and hopefully we can expand on economic development by bringing these networks to small towns,” Blake said. “It’s good for local economies when people go shopping, stay at a hotel, go out to eat and they have EV stations as an option to lessen their carbon footprint.”

Blake said he is noticing a trend in sales for electric vehicles going up astronomically since 2011 and that charging networks are being planned for across the U.S.

Regarding the future of fossil fuels, Blake emphasized Indigenous resistance to the fossil fuel industry as was seen during various pipeline construction protests. While he participated in these, he wanted to take even more action to give people more clean energy options.

“The thing about Native people is that we don’t stop. I see this project as another way of resistance. We’re not just sitting down saying ‘OK, you won this round.’ No, we’re going to keep going a couple more rounds,” he said with a chuckle.

This commitment is proven even more with potential plans to add a fleet of electric buses and other vehicles to Red Lake. Along with Standing Rock, Red Lake leaders will collaborate with project partners to evaluate each tribal nation’s needs and develop a pathway toward 100% clean energy vehicle use, along with future infrastructure needs, by a target date.

Looking ahead to the expansion of clean vehicle use, job creation and economic development, Blake’s passion and excitement for the upcoming three-year development does not come up short.

“We will fight for all our children and grandchildren’s future,” Blake said in a release. “Big oil is going to build pipelines, a thing of the past. We are going to build the future with an EV charging network and will continue to fight for Mother Nature and the sacred.”