Astrid Stawiarz/getty Cody Two Bears
Protecting the environment of his native land is a driving force for Sioux activist Cody Two Bears, but renewable energy like his solar farm also opens up a portal to bring economic independence to indigenous people who have long suffered poverty in this country.
Two Bears is opening up to PEOPLE about bringing solar energy and jobs to the tribes through his local non-profit Indigenized Energy and his national project Covenant Solar Initiative with other Native American leaders. He's been delivering his message to the mainstream through his relationships with celebrities ranging from actress Shailene Woodley to singer Pharrell Williams.
Two Bears, who also has siblings Don Jr. and Jaye, says Woodley is his "hunka sister." He explains it's part of Lakota culture, in which people become kin through ceremony.
"We do it with people we trust, and that's something we don't do with a lot of people. But we trust and know Shailene," Two Bears, 37, tells PEOPLE of Woodley, who has supported him both during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and his current solar quest.
Woodley, Williams and others have come to Standing Rock to learn more about a culture that the activist says this country has attempted to systematically destroy.
"Native Americans have never created a bridge to tell our stories," Two Bears says. "By creating an awareness of our stories, we open up our world. One of the projects which is launching is the very first Native American-themed shoe through Adidas. And we were part of that process."
On Aug. 27, Pharrell Williams dropped his first Humanrace Adidas sneaker Sičhona, a name suggested by Two Bears' brother that means "barefoot" and "connecting to the earth."
"I wanted to get advice from our native brothers and sisters, because I've learned so much from the way they see existence and nature," Williams told GQ. "So I reached out to my brother Dee Jay Two Bears."
Williams, with Adidas, extended that connection to Two Bears' solar vision recently by offering scholarships to six Standing Rock tribal members for a 10kW solar array training and a position installing solar on the home of a Standing Rock elder, according to the activist.
Dave Kolpack/AP/Shutterstock Shailene Woodley, Cody Two Bears
Adidas states that "this donation will not only go toward producing enough clean energy to power a community center, but will also serve as a broader educational platform."
The launch of Sičhona gives a global stage to the voices of the Indigenous American community with the "I am Dakota, We are Dakota'' ad campaign. It features a cast made up entirely of members of the Dakota tribe, including Two Bears' daughter, Maize Two Bears.
"It's recognizing our language, our culture and telling the world we have a message," Two Bears says. "And I think the world needs to hear what we're doing now and telling these positive stories."
Two Bears has always been active in his Cannon Ball community on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, but rose to prominence after becoming the youngest person elected to the Standing Rock Tribal Council at 26, and stepping up during the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests.
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Woodley caught the spotlight when she supported Two Bears during the protests and was arrested at a demonstration in 2016.
"A lot of people thought Shailene came because of the #NoDAPL movement, but we've had a relationship before that," he says. "We've done work together on food deserts on Indian reservations and other stuff. She's our sister and she wanted to help us."
When Two Bears decided to fast-track his battle to bring both economic and environmental solutions through renewable energy, Woodley was right there with him. She came for the July 2019 opening of Two Bears' Indigenized Energy solar farm and showed support on social media.
"Fossil fuels were the reason tens of thousands of people came to standing rock in 2016... and now, they're leading the way with SUSTAINABLE AND RENEWABLE energy sources," she wrote on Instagram. "Talk about changing a narrative and switching a paradigm."