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Opportunity Knocks: CU to Help Build Sustainable Demo Homes at Pine Ridge Reservation

Opportunity Knocks: CU to Help Build Sustainable Demo Homes at Pine Ridge Reservation Photo by Jen Kirschke

According to Bob Gough, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has four major challenges but one solution—sustainable housing. 

“We see four major crises: climate, energy, housing, and unemployment, but these four crises have one golden opportunity,” said Gough, attorney and secretary of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy covering 14 tribes including the Oglala Lakota at Pine Ridge. “If we focus on sustainable housing we could put a lot of people to work and we could create housing that is more sustainable, more economical, and a benefit for the local economy because the materials are locally sourced and the buildings are locally built.”
 
Gough is one of many partners in the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative, an interdisciplinary collaboration of students, faculty, and volunteers at the University of Colorado Boulder, Oglala Lakota College, and community organizations. Rob Pyatt, senior instructor in the CU-Boulder Environmental Design Program, founded the Native American Housing Sustainable Initiative (NASHI) in 2010 to improve housing conditions on tribal lands through research, education, and outreach. 
 
“Specifically, this initiative establishes a sustainable, affordable, and culturally appropriate housing research, design, and demonstration home project on the Oglala Lakota College campus as the foundation for an ongoing academic service-learning program between the CU Environmental Design program and the Construction Technology program at Oglala Lakota College,” Pyatt said.
 
The project focuses on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a 3,400-square-mile reservation in southwest South Dakota. Pine Ridge has been noted for its high rates of unemployment and has been called one of the poorest regions in the United States with nearly half the population living below the federal poverty line. 
 
This summer, Pyatt and 12 students will move to the Pine Ridge to help construct the first of four energy-efficient demonstration houses designed and conceptualized by students in the NASHI service learning course. Each structure— strawbale, optimized wood frame, compressed earth block, and SIPS (structural insulated panels)— is designed to be energy efficient and appropriate for the variable climate. Moving forward, the team will monitor how each prototype performs and recommend the most efficient design for future building on the reservation. 
 
Throughout the process, the CU-Boulder cohort has collaborated with instructors and students in the Oglala Lakota College construction technology program. Faculty and students worked alongside one another during exchange visits to Colorado and South Dakota campuses. Lenny Lone Hill, construction instructor at Oglala Lakota College, sees the project as an opportunity for his students and his community.
 
“I was involved in conventional building construction for 30 years. This is something new,” Lone Hill said. “People talk a lot, but there has to be doers. I want to be part of this because green, energy efficient housing is something we really need. If I can teach students conventional building, I can teach them this, and that will have a greater impact for the community.”
 
Garrett Akol, a CU-Boulder junior in environmental design, chose NASHI to fulfill his service-learning requirement because he liked the project’s combined community engagement and hands-on design aspects.  
 
Akol and classmates made continual design adjustments with input from their Oglala Lakota College counterparts. He said programs like NASHI are part of a growing movement in socially responsible design, and he is pleased to be a part of it.
 
“This is unlike any other class I’ve ever taken. When I tell people what we’re doing, they say ‘I can’t believe you are doing that,’” he said. “We are helping these people and they are giving us an opportunity to use what we are learning to apply it to a real world situation. It goes well beyond our studio classes.”
 
 
>> Keep up with the students and faculty in the NASHI program on the NASHI facebook page.

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