spiritual retreat center education

It should be possible to design a form of housing that is economically sustainable, ecologically responsible; and culturally resonant for the Lakota people. This is the premise of a week-long conference on sustainable housing to be held at the Borderlands Education and Spiritual Center, Hill City, SD, from August 2 - 8, 2010.

LIVING WELL will bring together a select group of architects, housing advocates, community elders, theologians and other interested persons to seek a new and more effective vision for the creation of housing for the Lakota Nations. For more information contact the Rev. Linda J. Kramer at 605.574.4746 or linda@borderlandsranch.org.

There is a chronic shortage of housing for the marginalized indigenous Lakota Nation of South Dakota. A significant portion of the population lives in mobile homes, rather than conventional houses. As an example, according to the 2000 census, approximately 30% of the dwellings in Shannon County, South Dakota (the location of the Pine Ridge Reservation) were mobile homes.  Most of the remaining population (63.8%) lived in detached single family homes 1. Even these detached homes are often substandard, however, for in many cases multiple extended family members are living together in units designed from mass produced architectural plans with space allotment and designs appropriate for nuclear families of 4 to 5 individuals.3

There are organizations that are making serious efforts to meet the housing shortage. Yet they recognize that the need far exceeds their resources. Woihanble Yuwita, the chapter of Habitat for Humanity on the Pine Ridge Reservation estimates, for example, that there are 1700 families on the waiting list for subsidized housing on the reservation. 2 South Dakota Public Broadcast ran a story in the fall of 2008 about a family of 11 that had already waited four and one half years for a building.

The creation of more housing is only a part of the problem.  The houses, as designed, are not conducive to winter and summer conditions prevalent on the Northern Plains. The cost of heating and cooling is prohibitive for reservation residents, who lack an economic infrastructure or an effective job market. New designs are needed to provide housing appropriate for the actual conditions of the Northern Plains. In particular such plans must address the following issues:

Ecological Sustainability. The early 21st century is a period marked by wildly fluctuating energy costs; alarm over the accumulated effect of greenhouse gasses; chronic disruptions of the national power grid; jobless rates at 9% nationally(March, 2009 estimates); and 70-85% unemployment on the reservations. 4 It does not make sense to continue to build homes in which the ratio of exterior surfaces to interior space is high-and the energy costs similarly high. There is a growing awareness in the Northern Plains that it is time to consider a broader range of green technologies such as straw bale construction, earth berm construction, ground-source heating and cooling, wind energy, and solar power.
Cultural resonance. A familiar Lakota quip about the effect of contact with European Americans on housing--"They took away our tipis and gave us square houses"-hints at an underlying problem related to housing. One-story rectangular ranch homes that look like World War II era military barracks do not have any particular cultural resonance for the Lakota people. Designs are needed that are culturally and spiritually relevant. That is to say, the investigation of ways to improve housing conditions is both a technical and a spiritual inquiry. Houses are not simply warehouses for human beings; they are indicators of cultural and religious values. To understand housing one must understand the lives of those who will live in the housing.

Economic Feasibility. To be useful, housing must lie within the economic reach of those who need it. Use of local materials and local labor may provide a source of local employment, while at the same time bringing over-all costs down.

Borderlands Education and Spiritual Center (www.borderlandsranch.org) is an ideal location for such a conference.  The Center, which is located at Borderlands Ranch that occupies 253 acres of high plains, pine forest and slate cliffs in the Pe Sla - the heart of the heart of Lakota sacred land -the Black Hills of South Dakota, has at its core mission, cultural reconciliation and environmental justice. Borderlands, governed by a Board of Directors made up equally of native and non-native persons, has been recognized by the Sierra Club 5 nationally and regionally for its work in the preservation of the Pe Sla, the prairie upon which it is housed 6.   It is a frequent site for pilgrimages, retreats, conferences and community gatherings.

Initial funding for the conference comes from the family of E. A. Prichard (1920-2000). Prichard, a native of Brockton, Montana, spent his childhood years on and near the Fort Peck Reservation. After graduation from high school, he left Montana to attend college in Oklahoma. While a student, he worked part-time as a secretary for western writer Stanley Vestal 7 and contributed to The Tribesman, an Oklahoma magazine for Native Americans. He never lost his appreciation for and interest in Native American communities. Two of his three children are Episcopal clergy and one, Robert W. Prichard, is a long-time faculty member at the Virginia Theological Seminary and a former professor of Borderlands’ Founding Director, the Rev. Linda J. Kramer. The Rev. Kramer, also an Episcopal priest, is currently a Fellow with GreenFaith Interfaith Fellowship.

Other sponsors are:
Virginia Theological Seminary Missionary Society
Borderlands Education and Spiritual Center
CAIRNS – Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies

1 U.S. Census Bureau, Table DP-3. Profile of Selected Economic Characteristics: 2000, Geographic area: Shannon County, South Dakota, http://censtats.census.gov/data/SD/05046113.pdf#page=4 (accessed February 5, 2009).
2 Woihanble Yuwita Habitat for Humanity, "Welcome Woihanble Yuwita Habitat for Humanity," http://www.orgsites.com/sd/pine-ridge-hfh/index.html (accessed January 12 2009).
3 South Dakota Public Broadcasting, ”Dakota Digest: Rosebud Habitat for Humanity," http://www.sdpb.org/Archives/ProgramDetail.asp?ProgID=7486 (originally aired Friday, November 21, 2008).
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Economic News Release: “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.” Table A-10. Employed and unemployed persons by occupation, not seasonally adjusted http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t10.htm (accessed April 10, 2009). The National American Indian Housing Council estimated in 2005 that there was 80% unemployment on the Rosebud reservation. See National American Indian Housing Council. “Indian Housing Fact Sheet,” http://www.naihc.net/news/index.asp?bid=6316 (accessed March 10, 2009).
5 Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet; “Where the Earth Meets the Sky; Sierra Club, June 2008, p.27
6 South Dakota Magazine: “Saving the Bald Spot: What’s a Mountain Meadow Worth?” Bernie Hunhoff, May/June 2008
7 Stanley Vestal was the pen name of University of Oklahoma professor Walter Stanley Campbell (1887-1957), a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction about the American west. During the 1930s he penned a trio of non-fiction works about Native Americans: Sitting Bull (1932), Warpath and Council Fire . . . a Biography of Chief White Bull (1934, 1948), and New Sources of Indian History (1934). The Tribesmen Magazine was published in Tulsa. For a contribution by Prichard see “On the Wrong Hand,” The Tribesmen 1 (September-October 1938), 10-11, 14-15.



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