Chéri Smith  (Mi’Kmaq)
Founder | Executive Director

Chéri is a descendant of the Mi’Kmaq Tribe of Northern Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.  Her experience in the fields of renewable energy and environmental sustainability spans two decades and multiple sectors, including Private, Public, Higher Education, NGO, and within tribal communities.  She founded Covenant Solar Initiative in 2017, driven by the desire to honor her own Native American heritage by leveraging her knowledge to bring the life-changing economic and environmental benefits of solar to struggling indigenous communities within the United States.  

Prior to founding Covenant Solar Initiative, Chéri was leading Workforce Strategy for Tesla, Inc., following her tenure as Head of Training Development for SolarCity. She led the company’s efforts to identify, train and develop a highly-skilled solar installation, solar module, battery and electric vehicle manufacturing workforce.  One of Chéri’s primary roles was coordinating community, academic, and government stakeholders in the significant effort to identify, staff, and train a brand new workforce for SolarCity’s Buffalo 1 GW manufacturing plant – the largest solar panel plant in the western hemisphere, and Tesla’s battery Gigafactory in Nevada, which, upon completion, will be the largest building in the world.

Since 2015, with SolarCity/GivePower Foundation, Chéri has managed the development, funding and project management – including design, administration, crews, procurement, installation, and more – for over 400kW of solar on Native American reservations, Including projects on the Navajo and Standing Rock Sioux Reservations, and a 100kW installation atop the Tribal Capitol Building of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, then the largest rooftop solar array on tribal lands.

From 2009 until joining SolarCity in 2015, Chéri was in private practice, providing solar workforce consulting, curriculum development, and project management services to colleges, universities, and governments, including the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, and served as an advisor for the following United State Department of Energy SunShot initiatives:  Solar Ready Veterans, Solar Instructor Training Network, and Solar Career Map.

From 2005 through 2009, Chéri served as Director of Education & International Workforce Development for the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), where she developed and managed ACORE’s corporate, educational, and citizen-outreach programs, including the Higher Education Committee on Renewable Energy, and green workforce programs, on an international level.   Prior to ACORE, Cheri spent six years in senior management positions for Boston University, Corporate Education division, where she oversaw sales, marketing, technical curriculum development, workforce development and graduate placement efforts for over 100 instructor-led and online information technology programs.

In her early career, Chéri was recruited to be a founding manager of Career Source – a highly-successful, Boston-based flagship organization of the Federal Workforce Investment Board initiative. Her team connected thousands of individuals — underrepresented workers, new graduates, career-changers, and those transitioning into the workforce from public assistance – with vocational training and hiring employers.

Chéri is founder and Executive Director (Emeritus) of Solar Campus Initiative, a former project of Earth Island Institute, as well as a Climate Leader, Trained personally by Climate Reality Project Chairman and former Vice President Al Gore.  She serves as an Advisory Board member for the Masters in Renewable Energy & Sustainability Systems degree program at the Pennsylvania State University, and on the Industrial Advisory Board for Microgrid Systems Laboratory/Santa Fe Community College Microgrid Design & Development Program.  Chéri also serves on the Education Advisory Committee for SEIA’s Solar Power International, and is an appointed Director of the Buffalo & Erie County, New York, Workforce Investment Board.   Chéri’s ultimate mission is preserving and protecting our planet for her three children – Evan, Aidan, and Camryn – and for all our children.

Otto Braided Hair, Jr. (Northern Cheyenne)
Co-Founder  |  Head of Tribal Engagement

Otto is an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Lame Deer, Montana.  A Traditional Leader with an inherent responsibility to protect and preserve Cheyenne life ways, he has over twenty years involvement in consultations with tribal, State and Federal agencies in the National designations of various tribal historic sites. Otto is a descendant of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, and has played a leading role in the formation of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, opened in 2007 and administered by the National Park Service.  Otto has had nearly twenty years of involvement with Chief Dull Knife College; as a student, served on the board as a member and a Chair, and is now serving on the College’s Fund Board – a sub-committee for fundraising and investment. Currently, Otto serves as a Director of the Northern Cheyenne Fire Department, and a consultant to the Tribe’s Advisory Committee on Renewable Energy.

Daniel East
Co-Founder  |  Associate Director – Operations, Training & Logistics

Daniel brings to the team over 8 years of experience in the PV industry and over 15 years of experience in the construction trades. His experience ranges from being the third employee in the successful startup of Zep Solar, to managing the growth of SolarCity’s Operations training department by over 10X, and to building and deploying the workforce development strategies for Tesla’s Solar Roof product launch. He has helped to develop new product suites, created the training collateral to launch them, and then molded the workforce to take pride in the quality craftsmanship that is necessary for a product to be successful. On the training front he has developed the new hire onboarding program for over 5,000 employees across 20 states, managed the growth of an award winning multimedia e-learning curriculum, started a leadership development training program that has been conducted for over 1000 Tesla employees, and launched 6 regional training centers around the US. While Daniel has worked to scale large PV installation companies, he has also worked with many smaller organizations in developing communities. He has worked with GivePower, Grid Alternatives, and Solar Energy International on both domestic and international projects. Some of those projects include launching products in Australia, leading off grid installations in Haiti, and managing projects for the Northern Cheyenne in Montana. He has worked in an advisory role for the Department of Energy’s Sunshot initiative and GivePower’s strategic advisory board. While his experience boasts technical training development endeavors around the world, he truly believes it is the human element that makes an operation successful. Building powerful quality craftsmanship and safety standards is a cultural undertaking. Daniel brings sensitivity, humility, and a passion for human empowerment, to interweave state-of-the-art solar training programs with Native culture so that they may both be successful.

Dr. David Riley
Co-Founder | Academic Director and Head of Engagement

Dr. David Riley is a Professor of Architectural Engineering at Penn State. His fields of expertise include sustainable building techniques, building energy efficiency, renewable energy systems, energy storage, and smart grid systems. David has been doing impactful work with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe for nearly two decades. He is considered a trusted friend of the Northern Cheyenne.

Dr. Riley is currently the director of the GridSTAR Center at Penn State and leads multiple initiatives funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation that are focused upon energy systems. These efforts include research, commercialization, workforce development, and education programs in the fields of energy efficiency, solar, wind, and smart grid technologies.

After earning is PhD at Penn State in 1994, Dr. Riley joined the faculty at University of Washington in the Department of Construction Management, where he developed a focus in sustainable construction and green building design. Upon his return to Penn State in 2000, Dr. Riley established an integrated research and education program in sustainable housing called the American Indian Housing Initiative (AIHI) in which students from multiple universities collaborate in the design and construction of sustainable structures and solar energy on American Indian reservations. From 2005 to 2013 Dr. Riley served as the Director of the Center for Sustainability at Penn State (now the Sustainability Institute). In 2005-07, Dr. Riley led the Penn State entry in the Department of Energy 2007 Solar Decathlon Competition. This effort led to the development of the MorningStar solar home, a teaching and research facility located on Penn State’s University Park campus. He is currently working with multiple industry partners to advance renewable energy through integration of building, solar, and energy efficiency technologies. (…and he rides an electric motorcycle!)

Vanessa Braided Hair

Director | Advocacy & Community Organizing

Vanessa is an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Southeastern Montana.  She is a co-founder of ecoCheyenne, a grassroots environmental organization which provides community outreach to support development of a robust, resilient, and diversified new “green energy” economy, with investments targeted to improve the quality of life on the 440,000-acre Northern Cheyenne Reservation in remote southeast Montana.

ecoCheyenne was founded in November of 2012 to protect Cheyenne homelands, create jobs, and support local economic development. In 2013-2015 ecoCheyenne and National Wildlife Federation, with support from Honor the Earth, worked to raise awareness on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation about preserving sacred lands, inspiring more than 250 Tribal members to contact public officials.

The Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation has open-cast coal mines on three sides and a new coal mine was proposed for the fourth side of the reservation. The Tribal Government has long fought against the encroachment of these mines on their sovereign land, similar to other battles played out by Native Americans and indigenous people across the world, wanting to protect their land from fossil fuel extraction. In March of 2016, Arch Coal announced that it would withdraw its permit application for the Otter Creek coal mine proposal. The company had pursued this site for nearly 40 years, with plans to mine more than 1.3 billion tons of coal, exclusively for export to China.

As a result of Vanessa’s and ecoCheyenne’s efforts, in 2016 and 2017, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council adopted a series of unprecedented resolutions, eschewing fossil fuels and, instead, endorsing green energy.  This led to Arch Coal’s withdrawal of their 40-year-old, embattled application to mine and build a railroad through their sacred lands.

Janet MacGillivray Wallace (Muscogee/Creek)
Public Policy & Legal Advisor

Janet is a descendant of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma.  She is an environmental attorney and social change activist. She founded and directs The Seeding Sovereignty Project, birthed at Standing Rock, to amplify the role of indigenous knowledge for environmental justice. She has more than a decade of public interest and social change activism fighting environmental injustices and a track record of successful campaigns. Currently she is Co-Director of the IMatter Campaign where she is leading  youth advocacy and mobilization on climate change, a staff attorney at Women’s Earth Alliance focusing on the impacts of geoextraction and false climate solutions’ impact to indigenous communities, and an active blogger on global environmental, human rights, and indigenous issues.

Janet’s work for nonprofits spans a range of environmental issues. At the Natural Resources Defense Council she focused on water, and as Senior Attorney for Riverkeeper, the N.Y.-based environmental litigation group, she worked for the cleanup of the PCB-contaminated Hudson River and fought corporations including GE and Monsanto. At Environmental Defense Fund she fought deregulation of genetically modified foods in the Biotechnology Program and helped bring a constitutional case on right-to-know and protective thresholds for commercial labeling. To better understand the human health impacts on vulnerable populations, she served as Policy Director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment and as Executive Director of Blacksmith Institute she traveled internationally to clean up polluted communities whose health was impacted. She next worked as a researcher and writer for Robert F Kennedy, Jr. on the book “Crimes Against Nature” and went on to found and serve as executive director for two nonprofits, Urbangreen, that addressed urban environmental issues, and Make A Ripple, a youth based nonprofit.

Prior to that, her work in government includes the United States Department of Justice where she helped prosecute the first case under the international ocean dumping statute and supported litigation against Exxon regarding the Exxon Valdez spill.  As a Superfund Attorney in Region II of USEPA she worked to enforce cleanups of contaminated communities, with emphasis on stricter standards most protective of human health.

Janet’s passions include corporate accountability and subsidized raiding of indigenous people’s global natural resources, youth catalyzing, and cross-fertilizing issue areas to tap synergies that build and diversify constituencies.  Janet is former board member of the Wallace Global Fund and Rainforest Action Network.

Janet is the proud mother of a daughter, Madeleine.  She lives in Woodstock, New York, with her husband Randall Wallace, film composer, activist and grandson of Henry A. Wallace, the thirty-third Vice President of the United States and his two children, Allaire and Hank.


Warren Hammond

Construction, Operations & Logistics Advisor

Warren is a seasoned and talented solar operations manager.  He garnered his experience through his years on the roof at SolarCity as an installer and, then, Crew Lead, before being promoted by the executive team to launch construction and solar operations in the key Mid-Atlantic region.  After much success as a Regional Operations Manager, he was again promoted to take over the New York region, and manage operations there during a period of rapid growth.  In his most recent position with Palmetto Solar, Warren has been successful in revamping the solar construction and operations systems and processes.  Warren is a wizard at establishing solar operations in brand new geographies, which entails developing a pipeline of qualified installers where there often are none.  He adeptly manages the entire solar deployment life-cycle, from the pre-design process, to construction for the installation, and everything in between:  Maintenance, alteration, repair, and replacement of solar systems, as well as managing complex equipment inventory, and ensuring profitability, efficiency, and safety of a solar operation. Warren studied Sustainable Technology at Appalachian State University. He grew up in North Carolina, adjacent to the Eastern Cherokee Reservation, and counts his experiences with tribal members as some of the most influential in his life.  Recently, Warren was an integral part of a project to install 100kW of solar atop the Tribal Capitol Building of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, offsetting 40% of the Tribe’s energy use for the building, and serving as inspiration for future renewable energy development on the Reservation.


Richard J. Marks

Strategic Development & Communications Advisor

As a communicator, writer-editor, and convener, Richard J. Marks has participated in a spectrum of National initiatives, cultivating the advancement and growth of clean energy leaders, emerging technologies, environmental finance, and sustainable community frameworks.  Most recently, Richard has served as an expert reviewer for U.S. Department of Energy, Tech-to- Market Innovative Pathways funding, and participated in advancing the field of “conservation finance” by co-publishing “Levering Ecosystems” with Credit Suisse.

Since 2005, Richard has created strategic communications and branded content for a range of energy, environment and sustainability initiatives. He founded PRODUCTIONS 1000 for energy, environment and sustainability leadership to communicate the rise in clean energy finance and projects.  In Washington DC, Richard specialized in renewable and clean energy communications.  During the American Investment and Recovery Act, he was contracted in a senior communications role to the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, where he developed and implemented a flexible suite of strategic communications plans, tools, action plans, and public-facing outreach in a highly technical program where $450 million of investments in large-scale geothermal energy had been severely compromised due to a lack of proactive communications and outreach.

In Asia, Richard ventured into frontier and ‘green economy’ initiatives that sought to benefit communities and the environment while being profitable. Areas of focus have included renewable energy, waste-to- energy, reforestation, large-scale land re-development and conservation. He consulted directly to the niece of President Xi Jinping, Hiu Ng, with the goal of enabling open pathways for international entrepreneurs and media to enter China’s tough markets.  He oversaw the launch of China’s first nationwide youth sustainability competition, supported by the Clinton Global Initiative and China’s top business leaders. A documentary about the event was broadcast to 300 million people on China Central Television (CCTV).

Simultaneously, Richard initiated engagement with four regional governors in Mongolia to develop the potential for private equity and strategic planning to generate large-scale reforestation.  Richard currently serves as President and founding U.S. director of the Global Committee of the China Children’s and Teenager’s Fund; Chairman of the Inland Ocean Coalition and Founding Board member of Innocents at Risk.

David Reichbaum
Project Administration & Partnerships Advisor

David has spent his career connecting human and natural environments and building sustainable development initiatives through immersive service-learning and unique private-public partnerships. After serving in Peace Corps in El Salvador and teaching in Europe and East Asia, David returned to the US to pursue a MPA in International Non-Profit Management at Middlebury Graduate Institute in Monterey, CA. Since 2012 David has held positions at SolarCity, Tesla, and GivePower Foundation, where he contributed to the sales, business development, and philanthropic goals of the organizations. As the first employee of GivePower Foundation David helped raise over $3M and implement over 2,000 clean energy access projects with partners such as Bank of America, Cypress Creek Renewables, buildOn, Intel, World Vision, Grid Alternatives, and many more. Currently David is contributing his skills and experience to help emerging clean energy initiatives bridge the gap and accelerate from concept to impact.

Ingrid Brill
Energy Policy & Access Advisor

Ingrid is an energy access practitioner with more than 10 years of Program Management experience, including five years spent working in sub-Saharan Africa. Having lived in rural, off-grid communities herself, she brings a deep level of expertise to understanding the multi-dimensional program aspects that must be integrated to deliver a solution that is community-driven, participatory, and aligned with partner priorities. Prior to joining Covenant Solar Initiative Ingrid was the Program Manager for the launch of the Tesla Solar Roof product. In East Africa she managed off-grid solar projects funded by the European Union Development Fund, Millennium Challenge Corporation and the World Bank. She has also consulted for Off Grid Electric, a leading Pay-as-you-go solar company, driving market research efforts as they expanded from their first market in Tanzania to Rwanda. Ingrid holds a Master of Science Degree in Sustainable Development from the University of California, Berkeley and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California. She is passionate about sharing her love of mother earth with her community through her organization Gaia Goals, which brings together the practices of mindfulness and sustainability to honor the earth and the humans that keep her healthy and loved.

©[2018] Covenant Solar Initiative, a Project of Earth Island Institute, 501(c)(3) Made with  in Oakland, CA

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