When Fawn Wasin Zi was eight years old, her relative Stanley Looking Horse (Interim Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe) had a dream that our way of life: our beliefs, culture, language, and religion would be gone in her generation. He envisioned that the Lakota would need to return to their beliefs and practices of our relationship to Unci Maka. If we continue the path we are currently on, then our relationship or Way of Life will come to an end, as Stanley Looking Horse foretold.
“Now my relative’s vision is coming true,” says Fawn, whose Lakota name is Shun Hizi Ota Agli Win, which means She Brings Many Buckskin Horses. “Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) is suffering and we are doing something about it.”
Learning of her relative’s dream was a turning point in Fawn’s life. Today, Fawn serves as Board Chair of the SAGE Renewable Energy Power Authority. Her vision is to see the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and in particular Standing Rock itself, become the energy epicenter of the world.
“We have big goals. The wind farm is our first project – and it will be followed by others such as solar and geothermal,” says Fawn.
SAGE is a renewable energy power authority that reflects the Lakota/Dakota people’s traditions, perspective, and broader connection to the land. As an organization, SAGE offers a new model of energy management for tribal reservations and communities that prioritizes people, land, and nature over a strict profit motive.
A biologist by trade, Fawn believes it is her duty and honor to speak for those cannot speak for themselves – including the wildlife and plants. Fawn grew up in Ft. Yates, N.D., and earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Mary.
Fawn attributes her interest in the science field to the way she was raised in a traditional Lakota home. While growing up, Fawn was a voracious reader and spent much of her time outdoors preparing and gathering traditional foods.
“I was drawn to becoming a naturalist because that is how I was raised,” says Fawn. “We watched our environment for signs if it was going to be a bad winter, a bad summer. I was very in tune with the environment.”
In school, math and science came naturally for Fawn, and she turned her love of nature into a career. In addition to her role as Chair of SAGE, Fawn worked as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Land Operations Officer. In this role, she worked with producers, ranchers, and farmers on sustainable practices. And it was in her prior role as the Standing Rock Project Manager for Energy Minerals that Fawn became such an advocate in renewables and sustainability, as she found herself researching the history of renewable energy at Standing Rock, and developing ideas for the future. With the support of from former Tribal Chairman Dave Archamabult II, Standing Rock established SAGE and Fawn began managing the wind farm project on behalf of the Tribe.
“We were seeing wind farms all over North and South Dakota,” says Fawn. “We wanted that renewable energy resource for our people, and our Tribe.”
In 2019, Fawn left her professional position with the Tribe to teach. She taught 5th/6th grade math at Fort Yates Middle School and high school science at Standing Rock Community School. But when stakeholders from the Standing Rock community asked Fawn to continue her work for the Tribe by serving on the SAGE Board of Directors, she realized she couldn’t step away. She accepted, and as Chair has recruited each member of the Board so far, as well as SAGE’s CEO and General Manager.
In June 2022, Fawn returned to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Land Management Department, where she serves as the Director of Reservation Resources. Working now in both the Board room and in the field, Fawn feels she is on the cutting edge of her subject area, able to help direct the work of SAGE to maximize the benefit for Standing Rock and its future generations.
“Leaving the classroom was the toughest decision of my life. The questions from students are amazing. Somewhere down the road I am hoping to still combine my two passions: teaching and science,” says Fawn. “We are figuring out how to get our young people involved in natural resources. And with climate change, it has to happen now – we need to act now. And that is what we are doing through SAGE.”
* Photo credit: Whitebull Photography