Oglala Lakota seeks sustainable future with HUD grant

December 30, 2010

Oglala Lakota seeks sustainable future with HUD grant
Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation will kick off 2011 with a week-long agenda to discuss the $996,100 Sustainable Communities Planning Grant it was awarded in October to work in partnership with many tribal agencies, non-profits, experts and Oglala people to develop a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development. This will serve as the blueprint for investment decisions, both public and private, to support a more sustainable future for the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Thunder Valley CDC was selected as one of 45 successful regional applicants awarded nearly $100 million in new grants from the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. There were more than 1,000 applicants for this highly competitive grant program.

The Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program will allow the Thunder Valley CDC-led team to look at comprehensive ways to integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers the Oglala Lakota Nation. Among other things, it will consider the interdependent challenges of economic competitiveness and revitalization; social equity, inclusion, and access to opportunity; energy use and climate change; and, public health and environmental impacts.

One of the more unique aspects of the grant was the requirement that the lead applicant put together a diverse team to inform and guide the process. Two entities were formed to fulfill this requirement and they will be working closely with regional representatives from Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The two entities are called the Consortium and Steering Committee.

Who is involved

First, the Consortium represents the tribal agencies, allies and other organizations already involved with housing, transportation, infrastructure, economic and social systems. A signed Memorandum of Understanding brought the initial group of partners together. Current members include Thunder Valley CDC (lead applicant); OST Office of the President; Pine Ridge BIA; Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing Authority; OST Partnership for Housing, Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial, OST Environmental Protection Program; OST Rural Water Authority; OST Health Administration; OST Office of Economic Development; OST Land Office; Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce; and Lakota Funds. A few more members will be added as the planning project unfolds.

Secondly, an 18-member Steering Committee has been formed to represent the "voice of the people." To serve as a counter-balance to the Consortium, it has key stakeholders and/or respected experts and elders to provide guidance on key issues such as objectives, policies, community involvement, resource allocation, decisions and feedback. Individuals on this committee have interest in planning a brighter future and promoting successful outcomes enhancing cultural, social, political, economic, and environmental opportunities. The group is made up of a very diverse, passionate and creative cross-section of the population of the entire region.

"Upon completion of this 2-year project, we will work with the Tribe and all the other organizations to adopt the plan and provide training and education to the people. After that we will submit it to the HUD, DOT and EPA and they will help our region seek out funding opportunities and programs that are aligned with the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development," said Nick Tilsen, Executive Director at Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation.

The greater goal

The mission is to integrate together many aspects of systems and services that deeply affect the well-being and vitality of the communities and people of the Reservation. Whether they look into more energy efficient homes, how to easier get into and maintain a home of one's own, more understanding of how sustainability measures affect the future, improved transportation and more jobs on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the group collaborating with Thunder Valley CDC will take an in-depth look at how so many different things are interconnected and can be strengthened or made more accessible. The ultimate goal will be to improve people's lives and opportunities.

What also makes the plan different is that it is being lead by a non-governmental organization which has been leading grass-roots efforts at the community level.

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation is a non-profit separate from the OST government. Major federal grants only often allow Tribes to apply, but this time HUD reached out to grass-roots organizations which represent another perspective.

"We have had the unique opportunity to bring a lot of partners together," Mr. Tilsen said. "Although the actual resources are being managed by a grassroots organization, we actively united together as Lakota people -- not just a single organization. We went out and got these resources to bring a positive opportunity to as many who share that same vision and are working hard for a better future for our children and grandchildren."

Working with BNIM

One of those partners is the nationally acclaimed green architecture and planning firm of Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell (BNIM). Together, BNIM and Thunder Valley CDC have been working on projects involving green planning and buildings for last two years. With over 40 years of experience as a multidisciplinary architectural firm, BNIM has completed many significant public and private projects at local, national and international levels. BNIM is committed to restorative design, which aims to maximize human potential, productivity, and health while increasing the vitality of natural systems.

BNIM has received several accolades including the prestigious 2011 AIA National Architecture Firm Award and the Daniel Burnham Award from the American Planning Association. Most notably, the firm received acclaim for the comprehensive master plan and green building designs for Greensburg, KS -- a rural town that chose to reinvent itself as a green community after bring devastated by an EF5 tornado in 2007.

"This is a very important project and we are honored to be a part of it," said Scott Moore, project manager and architect assisting Thunder Valley and BNIM. "Nick Tilsen has done an unbelievable job of bringing together a wide variety of people to do this work -- pretty rare stuff. It speaks volumes about the strength of his character and the tenacity of the Lakota people."

Mr. Moore said the precedents of the planning proposal came from many projects BNIM has been involved with over the years. Most notable were BNIM's work at Greensburg, KS, the re-building efforts and post-Katrina prototypes of New Orleans, LA, and the cutting-edge Living Building projects it has helped develop in the past years.

"With a history of working in challenging, but important situations involving multiple agencies and stakeholders, I have great hope that BNIM will be able to offer expertise and collective wisdom in a way most meaningful and useful for the people of the region," he said. "We are looking forward to learning, listening, collaborating and assisting the wonderful group of people Nick has brought together."

Looking ahead

While working with the wider regional community within the Pine Ridge Reservation, Thunder Valley CDC and BNIM will also develop the fundamental requirements for a green community development on 85 acres of land just north of Sharp's Corner, SD, in the reservation's Porcupine District. The green community will draw heavily from the information gathered and integrated as part of the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development. It is intended that this development will serve as a model for a more holistic kind of community based not only on the principles of the grant, but also the spiritual, cultural and social values of the Oglala Lakota.

There will be several stages of the community development project, but one of the first priorities is building a shelter and community center for at-risk youth.

Tilsen said that after the planning stages and implementation of the projects, the Pine Ridge Reservation as a whole should become stronger and have access to opportunities coordinated and streamlined by the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development.

"If we put it together in the right way, everyone on the reservation will know not only what their programs and resources are doing, but how it is affected or helped by all of the other projects and programs going on," he said. "We can't build up our community in isolation from the rest of the Tribe. We are interested in seeing what we can all do collectively. At the end of the two years we hope to have really listened to what people want and aligned it with the reality of the data is telling us. Only then will we move forward in a much more informed way that has us prepared to make smart choices."

Other members of the Consortium are looking forward to this planning project.

Emma "Pinky" Clifford, Director of Oglala Sioux Partnership for Housing, said they are looking at homes that will really meet the needs of the population, particularly youth.

"Home ownership is asset building and it is indeed possible on Pine Ridge -- we are improving it and there is a viable housing market here," she said. "We are hoping to maximize resources and avoid duplication, expand services, seek new partners and certainly not overlook the partners we have right here on the Reservation to begin this first year of planning safe communities."

First-time Consortium meeting

Starting the week of January 10, Thunder Valley CDC will be hosting a series of kick-off events to start the planning process. The Thunder Valley/BNIM planning team will join forces with representatives from HUD, DOT, EPA, DOE and USDA to meet with key members of the Consortium, Steering Committee and members of the Oglala Lakota Nation. An informational session is planned for Wednesday, January 12, in the Applied Sciences Building on the campus of Oglala Lakota College.

"After we all meet each other and go over the basics of what this grant is about, we will talk about how the planning project is going to work and what kind of participation each team member can expect," Mr. Tilsen said. "After that, our team will set schedules and start gathering data and working within the communities to get input."

The collective group of planning team, consortium, steering committee and governmental agencies will seek to highlight the biggest needs and look for the best ways to increase the sustainability and efficiency of not just one community, but the entire Oglala Sioux Tribe.

That concept is something that Ms. Clifford is excited about and supports wholeheartedly.

"We are not just one community but many communities and we're here to stay for a long, long time," she said. "With business, recreation, housing, schools and areas for religious purposes -- there's going to be a place for everyone."

To sum up the motivation behind this project, Mr. Tilsen offers a reminder to the introduction he wrote in the grant proposal he helped bring together, "We will approach this the way we do all of our other successful projects and interactions within our communities -- with patience, tenacity, love, understanding and respect for our elders, ourselves and our future generations."

For further information on the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant program, visit hud.gov/sustainability

For more information on BNIM, call Scott Moore at 816-783-1569 or visit bnim.com

For more information on Thunder Valley CDC, call Nick Tilsen at 605-455-2700 or visit thundervalley.org

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