Restoring​ ​the​ ​Future​ ​at​ ​Ohkay 

Published October 7, 2017

Author’s Note:  September 13th marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As designers and activists serving Native communities around the United States, we at Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative are acutely aware of the lack of impact this legislation has had. Yet we have also seen enormous progress made by numerous indigenous grassroots efforts over the last decade. Native News Online is publishing a series of stories this week that highlight the progress being made in several tribal communities: 

OWINGEH,​ ​NEW MEXICO —​ Tribal housing authorities, intermediaries between outside funders and Native communities, often feel pinned between the mainstream bureaucratic system of deadlines and short-term deliverables, and the ongoing process of community engagement and revitalization. For Tomasita Duran, Executive Director of the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority (OOHA) in Northern New Mexico, shifting this paradigm of standardization has been paramount. Since 2005, Duran has led the Owe’neh Bupingeh Rehabilitation Project. Owe’neh Bupingeh, the pueblo’s 700-year-old core, had slowly become eroded and abandoned due to outmigration, lack of funding, and the pressures of mainstream lifeways. Through a multi-year community planning process, OOHA has already rehabilitated 34 of the original adobe homes and plazas.

In order to receive federal funding, the Owe’neh Bupingeh project had to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Places. This preservation paradigm implies that ancient indigenous places have a specific ‘period of significance,’ which for the Ohkay Owingeh community was ambiguous; the Pueblo community considers both traditional protocols and the livelihood of future generations to be of extreme significance. Balancing the Tribe’s definition of sustainability and the expectations of funders was challenging. Duran worked with her community to articulate the ways in which the prescribed protocol for historic places clashed with Ohkay Owingeh customs and culture. Eventually, the Secretary responded; representatives came from Washington, DC to see how successful the first phases of Owe’neh Bupingeh had been and are now considering changing its regulations to allow other Native communities to pursue similar community-based rehabilitations.

While this exemplary work has been celebrated both within the community and nationally, there is still more to be done. OOHA has pledged to complete 15 more homes (an estimated cost of $3.5 million) but will need to do it this time with only private donations and grants. Duran explains, “There are so many individuals out there who, if they only knew about the project, would support it. It’s a matter of how you find those individuals, organizations, foundations, and that’s what i’m trying to develop here.” New Mexico is among the U.S. states offering tax credit opportunities to private donors; one of many incentives people have to invest their money responsively.

RELATED: Part I – Indigenous​ ​Rights:​ ​Organizing​ ​and​ ​Resilience​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Frontlines​ ​of​ ​Native​ ​America 

RELATED: Part II – Transforming​ ​Tribal​ ​Healthcare​ ​at Standing​ ​Rock,​ ​South Dakota

Mayrah Udvardi is an associate with the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative. SNCC focuses on culturally and environmentally sustainable development with American Indian, First Nations, and Indigenous communities. Through planning, architectural design, technical assistance and research, our services help tribal communities gain self-sufficiency, improve their impacts on the natural world, and develop healthy, green, culturally-responsive communities. To learn more, visit SNCC’s website at

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