6 Safe, Eco-Friendly Homes for Pine Ridge Lakota

by Altai Mir University
Beading & Quillwork Business
Beading & Quillwork Business

Life expectancy on the Pine Ridge reservation is the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere - second only to Haiti. Poverty is rampant, with average annual incomes around $3,000. We have slowly made progress over the past many years, helping families establish safe and viable homesteads on their ancestral lands and develop sustainable lines of income through cottage industry.

In our continuing search for ways to adequately fund this project, we have been offered a true gem.

One of our most promising areas is the development of a business plan that would build a strong foundation for the beautiful, artistic bead and quillwork that many families create together to sell during tourist season.  Their businesses are small and seasonal, their income dwindle down to almost nothing during the late fall and winter months.

Over 30 years, company founder Susie Cotcher built a large and successful beading and quillwork business www.truewestmagazine.com/beadwrangler-makes-magic/. Susie passed away this past spring. Though there are other substantial offers to buy the business, before she died she made it clear that she wanted the business to be sold to the women of the Lakota nation, living in poverty at Pine Ridge, even if it meant giving a substantial portion of the company's value as a gift.

We are now raising the capital needed to carry on this profitable and culturally-strengthening business endeavor. Your continued support is hugely appreciated!


Walipini that we will finish this summer
Walipini that we will finish this summer
For several years, our Lakota partner organization Tiyospaye Winyan Maka has been working on a partnership with Engineers Without Borders/Colorado State University Chapter, and the Community Engineering Corps in Fort Collins. On On February 11th, we met at CSU for a "Domestic Project Kick-Off."
As I have written in earlier reports, all the materials (including a car), physical infrastructure, and supplies for Tiyospaye Winyan Maka's housing project were stolen a year ago. Our project leader Christinia Eala forged onward, despite recent triple-bypass heart surgery, to form a strategic alliance with Bryan Deans of the Oglala Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitalization Inititative, better known as (O.L.C.E.R.I.), whose shares our objective of safe, sustainable housing (plus construction skills for Lakota youths).
Bryan's vision is to create a community center for the nine communities in the Slim Buttes area. In addition to a gathering place for community events, there will also be various workshops on permaculture design, organic gardening techniques, solar power and wind generation, and alternative building methods using repurposed items and materials found discarded around the reservation.
The conceptual design and work of the Community Center will be done with EWB/CSU and will take a period of at least three years to complete. It will include:
  • Meeting Room
  • Kitchen
  • Restrooms
  • 2 Offices
  • 6-8 Bedrooms
For the build season, June through early October, 2016, the work of TWM will be forward work to establish the campground for International and Domestic volunteers. Our plan is to install an earthen (adobe) floor in the outdoor kitchen, repair, reinforce, refinish the roof, and work on the enclosure sides, build a minimum of two outdoor loos, and two solar showers. We will help with fundraising to buy the material to complete the walipini (greenhouse), which is underground and can grow fresh vegetables and herbs year round.
We expect that this will enable us to rebuild a secure and necessary foundation from which to continue with the core objective of building safe, sustainable housing on Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation.
Thank you for your ongoing support!
International volunteers digging out the walapini
International volunteers digging out the walapini
     Last May, Lakota Project leader Christinia Eala took a team of Engineers without Borders from Colorado State University (EWB/CSU) to the property of Joe and Lena Fast Horse to build the foundation to build the foundation for the battery house for the solar array panel. Joe and Lena have been working for years to create a safe house for Lakota children. They are currently living in cramped, mold-infested federal housing in Wounded Knee.
     Tiyospaye Winyan Maka, Christinia's nonprofit organization, is starting the process of formalizing our relationship with EWB/CSU, who have excellent mentoring and guidance from  EWB/Professionals here in Fort Collins as well as EWB/USA headquartered in Denver.  Everyone is very excited about this. However, it rained almost the entire time the EWB team was in Wounded Knee, but they did get the foundation complete and installed a 350 gallon water tank. Unfortunately, three of the cars got stuck in the deep gumbo-like mud and Christinia's clutch got burned up while trying to get the car out.
     Then, with international volunteers arriving for the summer, Christinia learned that the entire contents of the project's Fast Horse camp had been looted. So…in the Spirit of always moving forward, she visited with Bryan Deans who has a ranch and homestead in Slim Buttes on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He has an organization called Oglala Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitalization Initiative. The volunteers spent their time working on his  homestead, where he is currently building a “Walapini” or underground greenhouse in order to have fresh vegetable year round. These projects are always viewed as model projects for the larger community.
     In December 2015 and January 2016, Christinia returned to Wounded Knee to reassess the Fast Horse site to determine how prepared the family was to move forward with the project and discovered that they weren’t as prepared as necessary to accommodate the international volunteers in the upcoming season. This is heart-breaking because the need for the safe house is so great and the Fast Horses have been working for so long and so hard to create it. 
     So, the project team will focus on Bryan Deans' projects again this summer, reinforcing his outdoor kitchen as needed, building one or two more “outhouses,” refreshing the solar shower, and clearing and maintaining the campground.
     We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support for this project through GlobalGiving.
Project Leader Christinia Eala at the build site
Project Leader Christinia Eala at the build site
Following a very difficult year, which included triple bypass heart surgery for project leader Christinia Eala, followed by theft of virtually all of the project's tools and building materials, things are looking up again for our Wounded Knee home project. The Colorado State University Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter is ready to create a formal partnership. EWB has assisted informally for several years, but now CSU student Kristin Wells has been assigned as the EWB lead for the Wounded Knee project.
Tiyospaye Winyan Maka, our local nonprofit sponsor is restructuring to incorporate the EWB expertise as well as to replace the stolen tools and materials with help not only from GlobalGiving sponsors, but from churches, green building groups, businesses, and community organizations nationwide. We expect to be back at Joe Fast Horse's place in the spring, to continue work on their children's safe-house project.
Site for Joe Fast Horse
Site for Joe Fast Horse's children's safe house
International volunteers building the walipini
International volunteers building the walipini

Nobody said that building housing at Wounded Knee would be easy. But, by golly, the spirit is willing.

In early May, Christinia took a group of enthusiastic Engineers Without Borders student from Colorado State University to the site, along with supplies to build a battery house for the new solar power system that has been donated. Only to find that the building site had been pillaged. Approximately $7,000 worth of equipment had been stolen: our kitchen/supply tent, our trailer to haul things, even Christinia's project car(!) -- all gone. On top of that, the head gasket in the project truck blew. Then the rains came down and Christinia's other car got stuck in the mud and blew out the clutch. Time to re-group.

We're still short of money to fix the truck, but Bryan Deans of the Oglala Lakota Cultural Economic Revitalization Initiative rescued the car and has provided an alternative project for this summer's international volunteers. They are building a ‘walipini’ (an Aymara Indian word for a “place of warmth”) -- an underground greenhouse that can grow veggies through the bitter Dakota winters. When you dig down four feet, the temperature stays more constant.  A glass lean-to captures and stores the daytime heat. It is built similarly to an earthship house, using tires in the foundation.  Bryan has adapted several styles to create an original design for this greenhouse. We'd like to use Brian's design and include a walipini every place we build, not only to grow organic food, but also as a tornado shelter should the need arise.

But for this summer, starting over as we had to, we need to raise $1000 for materials for the walipini. And your continuing support is critical as we get the Fast Horse child sanctuary back on track for next year.

Bryan Deans backfilling on the build site
Bryan Deans backfilling on the build site

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Organization Information

Altai Mir University

Location: Shoreline, WA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.AltaiMir.org
Project Leader:
Carol Hiltner
Shoreline, Washington United States

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