Short supplies and the rising cost of propane, paired with harsh cold, have created problems for communities throughout the nation this winter, but it is especially true on the Standing Rock reservation where the crisis is exacerbated by poverty and housing problems.
Chase Iron Eyes believes he has found what could be a long-term and sustainable solution to the problem.
He started “Heating the Rez” on www.indiegogo.com to raise funds to purchase multi-fuel stoves to offer a replacement or offset for propane.
The goal is to reach $50,000 by March 19 to purchase 20 stoves. As of Thursday afternoon, more than $36,000 had been raised.
“We are going to hit that goal, because we’re almost already there, so hopefully we can even go over,” Iron Eyes said.
Iron Eyes is teaming with Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, along with the Missouri Valley Family YMCA, Seven Fires Business Solutions, Last Real Indians and the Native American Development Center to also host a “Heating the Rez” 5K, 10K and one-mile fun run on Feb. 22.
The run will begin at 1 p.m. with registration and a post-run reception in the YMCA’s main lobby.
The group had already started plans to coordinate a run in Rapid City, S.D., but pushed up the date and changed locations due to the death of Debbie Dogskin on Feb. 4. Dogskin was found dead in a mobile home with an empty propane tank.
“That kind of sent everybody into a state of shock ... that you can freeze in a shelter in a North Dakota winter,” Iron Eyes said. “And the fact that it was because somebody couldn’t afford to meet those high propane prices.”
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which owns and operates the Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minn., has donated $500,000 to help Standing Rock in the immediate crisis.
Although grateful for the funds, Iron Eyes hopes to find a more long-term and sustainable solution.
So he connected with Burning Desires Inc., which is owned and operated by Denny Hildebrand and his son, Kent, in Mandan. They offer multi-fuel stoves that Iron Eyes thought would be the solution for the propane crisis on the reservation.
“The point of the fundraising wasn’t to buy more ridiculously priced propane,” Iron Eyes said. “I am interested in a long-term solution, especially one that empowers us and gives us a chance to provide our own heat source — a very basic thing that a human being does for himself. There’s a little bit of dignity, entrepreneurship that comes with that.”
Burning Desires of Mandan has committed to install the heaters after the funds are raised.
Iron Eyes will work through the nonprofit Seventh Generation Fund to distribute the money raised to purchasing the heaters, which he hopes to install by April.
Iron Eyes said his initial research showed it takes about $5 to $7 a day to heat a home with the new stoves, compared to $15 to $20 with propane.
Standing Rock has a large corn operation, which could be a strong resource for the new stoves, Davis said.
“My job is to measure the economy of Standing Rock and the tribe, and 70 percent of that is agriculture,” he said. “We are large, land-based tribes. We have a lot of acreage we could dedicate to growing natural commodities for these stoves.”
Hildebrand said the multi-fuel stoves run similar to coal stoves but use pellets, corn and other fuels to produce heat.
“What makes the multi-fuel stoves attractive is they can be independent, all they need is power and they can raise their own fuel,” he said. “They don’t have to go to somebody to buy it and they aren’t controlled by pricing.”