BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - An effort to raise $50,000 for a pilot project aimed at using heat stoves to curb the reliance of Standing Rock Reservation homes on propane fuel has reached its goal in just a couple of weeks.
The “Heating the Rez” effort run through the online site www.indiegogo.com has drawn more than 1,150 donations from a dozen countries, as far as Australia and Sweden. It topped the $50,000 mark early Wednesday.
“Social media has impacted the way that we talk to the world from Indian Country,” said Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney and American Indian activist who is spearheading the effort. “These campaigns, they have an energy of their own.”
The money will outfit 20 homes with heat stoves that burn pellets made from natural materials such as wood, grasses and chokecherry pits - materials that can be gathered on the 3,600-square-mile reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border and is home to 10,000 people. The long-term goal is to make the stoves commonplace on the reservation - where as many as 5,000 homes rely on propane - and manufacture the pellets to fuel the stoves.
Iron Eyes launched the effort in response to a propane crisis on the reservation. The tribe declared a state of emergency as residents struggled to afford higher propane prices tied to a nationwide shortage caused by supply disruptions, a late and wet harvest, and cold weather across the U.S. Authorities are investigating whether the cold contributed to the death of 61-year-old Debbie Dogskin, whose body was found Feb. 4 in a mobile home with no propane.
Officials say the current crisis is easing thanks to warmer weather and a drop in the price of the fuel, but Iron Eyes wants to end the reservation’s dependence on propane and promote renewable fuels at the same time.
Officials have started to identify some homes willing to be a part of the pilot project.
“They get a free stove and we get a commitment to learn how to use the stove, how to maintain it,” Iron Eyes said. “It will help us create a renewable culture, a regenerative economy.”
The Mandan-based Burning Desires company will be installing the first 20 stoves as early as May. Meanwhile, the online fundraising campaign will continue for another month.
The Heating the Rez effort also raised about $360 through a special run and walk event held in Rapid City, S.D., last Saturday. A similar event is planned in Bismarck, N.D., this coming Saturday. On Sunday, Iron Eyes and three others plan to run a marathon in New York to promote the effort.
Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake