Community Member

Spirit of the Sun Inc

Denver, Colorado

“A good ancestor respects the rights of nature to protect the interests for the next seven generations. A good ancestor holds the responsibility of traditional knowledge, cultural resilience, and lived experiences to pass traditions to conserve ‘resources’ as sources of life-giving for all in our biodiversity, which must be protected and supported through stewardship.”

Spirit of the Sun to Governor Jared Polis (CO), 2020

In the western United States, communities who rely on the land to thrive tell tales of land displaced or discovered; shared or owned; sustained or used. But the land itself keeps the record: in its soil, its topography, its climate, or any broad diversity of natural features—geological, biological and otherwise. Peoples who inhabit the land can tragically, craft their own means to silence the land and the life it supports, or they can listen and receive its wisdom.

Spirit of the Sun, Inc. is an Indigenous women-led nonprofit located on on Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), hinono’eino’ biito’owu’ (Arapaho), Comanche, and 48+ other tribes’ sacred land. Collectively, SOTS offers a reminder to those who claim the land and rewrite its history for their own gain. More importantly, SOTS offers a vision to steward the land for generations to come.

SOTS captures this central mission with their motto: “Empowering native communities, one youth at a time.” Nationally, SOTS coordinates economic development with a broad coalition of tribal nations and government agencies to fight Native poverty at its source. Locally, SOTS innovates means to support urban Native peoples in the Denver metropolitan area. In sum, SOTS aims “to boost the resilience of Native people, especially youth and young adults.”

SOTS advocates for intersectional justice in politics, policy and community organizing. In their multi-faceted approach to community resilience, SOTS recognizes that climate, environmental and racial justice “…are not separate from one another. The fight [for] one is the fight [for] all three.”

In 2020, SOTS leaders presented their fight to the newly elected Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis. Asking Gov. Polis “to be a good ancestor,” they reminded state officials that climate change impacts everyone, but it impacts “Indigenous, Black, Latinx, low-wealth, rural and working families hardest, compounding ongoing and worsening equities.” To combat inequity, SOTS called on the Polis administration to enact “direct work on specific policies,” rather than vague campaign promises, “for quickly implementing equitable and enforceable climate policy….”

Modeling ideals for just stewardship, SOTS joins with diverse activists and residents to develop renewable energy in Colorado. In 2021, SOTS organized to stop development plans for nuclear power in Pueblo, CO. Already home to Colorado’s largest greenhouse gas polluter, one in five Pueblo residents live in poverty and half are Latinx. Many of Pueblo’s Indigenous and Black populations live dangerously near industrial factories or the Comanche 3 coal plant. With coalition partners, SOTS organized public pressure to stop chronic sacrifice of land and people for dirty energy and its devastating generational impacts. At the same time, SOTS called for wiser investment in Pueblo for cheaper, safer renewables like solar and wind.

SOTS joins a similar fight against Suncor Energy oil refinement in Commerce City, CO. Recognized as one of the most polluted zip codes in the nation, Suncor’s location is within walking distance of residential neighborhoods, schools and public parks. The area is home to a majority Latinx community, and 55% of residents near the refinery live in poverty. In the words of community resident Reneé Millard-Chacón, “They [Suncor] want all of the resource with none of the responsibility of restoring the source of life they are taking.”

Since 2011, Suncor has operated illegally without required state permits, and yet the state does little to stop its operations. In response, SOTS partners with the Latina-led non-profit Cultivando, who help monitor air quality in neighborhoods surrounding Suncor’s plant. In the community, SOTS engages expert mycologists to educate the public on natural solutions to improve soil and air conditions.

Beyond advocacy, SOTS actively cultivates good ancestors among Native youth. With partners Earth Guardians and Serve Colorado, SOTS supports Indigenous youth certification in regenerative agriculture. They collaborate as well with small, local farms to produce sustainable native crops. Each year SOTS invites AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to support “environmental stewardship, economic development and healthy futures” in Native communities. Recent programs have included training in permaculture, culturally appropriate health care, and other intersectional initiatives.

In the 21st century, SOTS is a powerful voice for just stewardship and responsible development led by Indigenous communities in Colorado and across the nation. With great reverence for the land that sustains them, SOTS reminds any who will listen of the true history of our shared land and our mutual responsibility for it:

“[We] will continue to educate and empower. We will continue to show up. We will continue to demand representation within the fight against climate change. Our resiliency in this fight comes directly from our ancestors. For them and those to come, we will continue to fight for policy change that not only addresses these injustices but also values the Native and Indigenous narrative.”

A2 values SOTS’ story and the land that gives it life. In 2023, A2 will provide support for SOTS to pursue federal funding for its environmental initiatives. More broadly, A2 supports SOTS and its partners as good ancestors and just stewards of a healthy land.

For more information:

Nuclear Free Pueblo Toolkit

Suncor Sundown video

Suncor Sundown advocacy website

Colorado Times Suncor Sundown article

Pueblo County drops nuclear support article

SOTS Mycology as hope for climate impact (Denver Post)

Greg Chatterley

Greg Chatterley

Greg is a Wisconsin-based researcher, writer and historian with a passion for social justice across diverse social fields. He holds a PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School where he specialized in the history of race and religion in the United States. Greg promotes environmental justice as an essential foundation for health, equality and prosperity in diverse communities.


Shannon Francis


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Climate Impacts

Air Pollution, Drought, Heat

Environmental Justice Concerns

Air Pollution, Coal/Coke Plants and Emissions, Fracking/Oil and Gas Development/Pipelines, Groundwater Contamination, Lead Contamination, Mining, Nuclear Power Plants, Superfund Sites


Community Land Trusts/Land Conservation, Fighting Industrial Contamination, Green Infrastructure, Nature-Based Solutions, Policy Reform, Renewable Energy

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