Leaving Public Housing for Room to Grow
[imgbelt img=Pine-Ridgefreedcob320.jpg]For one Lakota family, the harsh challenges of building a home in the country bring freedom and renewed hope
[imgcontainer left] [img:Pine-Ridgefreedcob320.jpg] [source]Jamie FolsomShannon Freed and her family have built their own cob house on their own land, applying tools, materials, and know-how from the community with lots of their own labor.
Like many American apartments, homeowner associations and subdivisions, the tribal housing authorities on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota restrict what residents can do on site. House colors are pre-selected and floor plans are limited. Outdoor laundry is OK, but not gardens.
One rule has made an especially deep impact on reservation life – outbuildings are not allowed. Since there can be no barns, no chicken houses, no storage sheds, there’s no way to store tools, spare auto parts or extra supplies to get families through the winter, except in locked cars or in the already crowded houses.
“There’s a huge difference between living here in the housing and living out on your own land,” says Shannon Freed. She came to Pine Ridge in 2006 as a sustainable-home building volunteer and now lives on the reservation with her Lakota family. She has invested the past four years making sure her family has the chance to do better for themselves.
“In the housing, there isn’t anything to do. Nobody has any money to go recreate,” Freed says. “Very rarely do people go out to a movie or to dinner, or even go to a park and play or rollerblade or ride your bike for recreation. There’s cleaning your house and trying to keep your yard straightened.”
She organized the construction of a cob house on father-in-law Gerald Weasel’s land just outside Wounded Knee, in part because opportunities come with living in the country.
“If you live on your own land, you can have your outbuildings, and you can improve your property, and do things to improve your lifestyle,” she says. “You can build a nice garden and put a fence up. You can have horses and use them for things. You can raise cattle or other livestock and sell them. You can create a business; you’re not allowed to have a business in your home in the housing.”
Freed, who has a two-year-old daughter with Weasel’s son Adam Aguilar, sees other benefits to home ownership in an environment where despair is common. “This is [Gerald’s] place. There’s a reason to fix the wall if it chips out. There’s a reason to fix the floor: it’s his. I think there’s a whole different mentality around living in something that’s not yours.”
[imgcontainer left] [img:PineRidgeweasel320.jpg] [source]Jamie FolsomAs of late October, Gerald Weasel had begun to stay in
the cob house, constructed of adobe with traditional methods. Floors are tamped, oiled clay, which provides good
insulation against the sub-zero temperatures of South Dakota’s winter.