Patrick Neil Spears, age 62, former tribal chairman, passionate warrior for renewable energy and indigenous sustainability, and long-time president of the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy, journeyed on to the spirit world shortly after midnight on July 2, from St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre, South Dakota.
A wake will be held at his home at Fort George on the western end of the Lower Brule Reservation (marker 148 on SD Hwy 1806) on Thursday evening, with burial at 10 a.m. on Friday morning at the nearby Holy Name Cemetery on SD Hwy 1806, southeast of Ft. Pierre, South Dakota. Pat requested that ‘no flowers be cut’ for his passing, instead donations for a memorial to his work maybe sent to the Intertribal COUP.
An enrolled member of the Lakota Kul Wicasa (Lower Brule Indian Tribe), Pat was born in the old IHS hospital at Rosebud on June 26, 1950, to Norman F. Spears and Esther Thompson Spears of Lower Brule. He is survived by his mother, brother Daniel and sisters Cathy, Brenda and Tammy; his children Pedro, Leslie, Michael, Ryan, Matthew, Clay, Edward and Little Patrick; sixteen grandchildren; and his beloved companion Suzie Crow. He was preceded in death by his father, brother Michael, and his two sons Shawn and Patrick.
At various times throughout his life Pat called Lower Brule, Vermillion, Aberdeen, Washington, DC, Pierre/Ft. Pierre and lastly Ft. George home. Pat’s formal education included graduating from Lyman High School, a BA in Sociology, with emphases in Anthropology and Indian Studies from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, and graduate study in Public Administration at the Washington D.C. Public Affairs Center, University of Southern California.
Pat’s informal education came through his love of rock, country, western, folk and traditional Indian music, through construction labor on I-90 and the long hours of ranch and farm work, years of working for federal and tribal governments, wrangling plants and animals on the set of ‘Dances with Wolves’, and the enjoyment of fishing, hunting, gardening and playing a mean blues harp. He witnessed the construction of the last dams on the Missouri river and the flooding of his treasured homeland garden, farmlands and hunting grounds. He greeted every dawn in prayerful gratitude for the coming day.
Pat was the former Planning Director and then Chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and has worked at tribal, intertribal, state and federal levels of government, including HUD, HHS, SD Governors Office of Economic Development and the Mni Sose Intertribal Water Rights Coalition.
Topping off a long career in tribal planning, Pat was the co-founder and president of the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy (COUP), representing the energy interests of American Indian Tribes in the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Through Intertribal COUP, Pat was involved in policy issues and outreach education to tribal governments, colleges, and indigenous environmental organizations on climate change, energy planning, energy efficiency and renewable energy development, and sustainable housing workforce training. His policy work also included collaboration with other regional and national members of the Intertribal Energy Network.
Providing consultant services to tribes, intertribal organizations, DOE Wind Powering America, NASA, and tribal colleges, Pat championed renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate change, and strawbale housing construction training on the Sinte Gleska University campus on the Rosebud Reservation. He also served as co-chair of the Native Peoples, Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop as part of the USGCRP National Climate Assessment.
Pat was a member of the team that developed the first utility scale wind turbine at Rosebud and the KILI Radio wind turbine project on the Pine Ridge reservation with Honor the Earth. He served as a board member for NativeEnergy, a company that assists in financing renewable energy projects through the purchase of renewable energy credits and carbon offsets and for Fresh Energy, a St. Paul based, non-profit advocacy group for renewable energy policies. He also co-managed the development of the 450 MW Intertribal Wind Project plan, competitively selected in 2003 as a federal environmental justice wind energy project, developed to help ‘green’ the federal hydro-power electrical grid in the Northern Plains by reducing the region’s dependence on lignite coal generation and building tribal economies.
In 2007, Pat, along with Bob Gough, long-time friend and COUP colleague, traveled to Basel, Switzerland to accept the inaugural World Clean Energy Award for Courage for the COUP plan to build tribal wind projects and sustainable, affordable reservation housing. In 2011, Intertribal COUP proposed a five-year commitment to tribal energy training and education through the Renewable Nations Institute with the Clinton Global Initiative. Always looking to expand tribal capacity, Pat was just beginning a new COUP project with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, bringing climate and weather monitoring programs to the reservations through several tribal colleges.
Pat always had a warm smile and ready good word for every one he met. He was proud of the accomplishments of all his children and comfortable in the company of the Ikce Wicasa on the Great Plains reservations, street musicians in Greenwich Village, San Francisco or Los Angeles, mayors at Robert Redford’s Sundance or at international gatherings, senior scientists at NASA, or senators and congressmen in Washington, DC. While his passionate advocacy for Indian peoples will be missed, his leadership and spirit will guide generations to come.
[Tax deductible donations may be sent to: Patrick Spears Memorial Fund, Intertribal COUP, P.O. 25, Rosebud, South Dakota 57570.]