Sustainable Housing for the Oglala Lakota

A South Dakota Oglala Lakota nonprofit has just broken ground on what will become a regenerative community housing development that focuses on people, prosperity and the planet. The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation says the project is one response to a “moral responsibility” to end poverty in Native communities.

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The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (Thunder Valley CDC) broke ground on its regenerative community housing development last month.

Local, regional and national partners including the Sustainable Home Ownership Project, USDA Rural Development, Enterprise Community Partners, the Northwest Area Foundation, and the Bush Foundation among others also support the project. The project will create 32 single family homes, apartments, a small farm and aquaponics greenhouse, a grocery store, powwow grounds, a youth shelter, artist studios and more, according to a press release. 


In the past, the Oglala Lakota people had strong, sustainable regional economies that were built around a nomadic lifestyle of hunting buffalo, stewarding the land, and managing sophisticated societal and democratic governance structures, said Nick Tilsen, founding executive director of Thunder Valley CDC. However, policies and injustices have created third world poverty conditions in the heart of America, he said.

“Our people no longer hunt the buffalo as a way of life, but we are still here,” Tilsen said. “We know that a sustainable, resilient community is still possible. The movement is here. The time to define and develop our own future is now.”

An artist's rendering of the completed project

After years of planning, Thunder Valley CDC broke ground for Phase 1 of their regenerative community on June 22. The project will enable families to purchase and own their own affordable, eco-friendly homes. Local families are expected to move in later this year as the organization begins construction on additional units and community buildings, according to Thunder Valley CDC.

The project, when completed, will serve as a model for Native and rural communities on Pine Ridge and across the country, designed to be resilient to environmental and economic changes, Tilsen said. It will focus on the "triple bottom line" of  "people, prosperity and the planet," he said.

Six of the 11poorest counties in the U.S. are in South Dakota and they are all on Indian Reservations. The poverty in these communities is historic, generational poverty that is largely kept out of sight and out of mind of national audiences, according to the organization's press release.

Tilsen said it is essential that Native youth lead efforts to regenerate the health and economy of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Through programs focused on people, jobs, health and housing, the organization aims to create equity and opportunity for the community

Photo by Andrew Iron Shell/Thunder Valley CDC
Nick Tilsen, Founding Executive Director of Thunder Valley CDC.

Thunder Valley CDC, founded in 2007, approaches sustainable community development through a systems approach that will build and support the community from multiple perspectives. Part of this process includes workforce development and skills training programs that will build a cohort of local individuals prepared for employment and growth in the new economy they are building.

“Some people might think that ending poverty in Native communities is overwhelming, too entrenched, too complicated, or impossible,” Tilsen said. “We the people of these communities believe otherwise. We believe that ending poverty in America’s Native communities is a moral responsibility that is attainable in less than a generation, in my lifetime.”

 

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