Former Senator Tim Johnson (South Dakota), Nick Tilsen & HUD Secretary Julián Castro on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation discuss needs of Indian housing last fall.
PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION— Six of the eleven poorest counties in all of America 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. On Pine Ridge, the Oglala Lakota community is coming together to take hold of their future.
On June 22, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (Thunder Valley CDC) will break ground on its regenerative community housing development with the support of 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. 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.
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. However, policies and injustices have created third world poverty conditions in the heart of America.
“Our people no longer hunt the buffalo as a way of life, but we are still here,” says Tilsen. “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.”
After years of planning, Thunder Valley CDC will break ground on Phase 1 of their regenerative community, enabling 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.
HUD Secretary Julián Castro and Nick Tilsen, director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporatioin
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, while focusing on the triple bottom line: people, prosperity and the planet.
Tilsen says that it is essential that Native youth are leading the 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
For Thunder Valley CDC, the vision for their community has to be as big and far-reaching as the challenges they are facing.
The organization, 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,” says Tilsen. “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.”
The celebration event is open to the public and begins at 10:00 am. Join Thunder Valley CDC and their supporters for free food, music and tours on June 22nd at the regenerative community development site, just north of Sharps Corner, South Dakota at the junction of BIA Route 2 and 27. RSVP by calling Billie at 605-455-2700 or online at www.thundervalley.org/youre-invited.