On October 11, Americans celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. It’s a day to honor the cultures of Native American people.
Right now, there is a push by Indigenous Americans to become self-sustaining. When you first enter the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, you see signs of poverty. But as you continue along Highway 18, you’ll come across something unexpected.
In the middle of the Badlands National Park lies Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation. Tatewin Means, who is with the Oglala Lakota tribe, says they decided to take on the project to create a self-sustaining community.
“Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation started from a prayer. It was from a group of young people that were restless for change, that were reconnecting to our Lakota lifeways, to our songs and ceremonies,” Means said.
Through crowdsourcing, they were able to build energy-efficient homes. This ultimately created homes for first-time homebuyers.
“We know that we can build the most beautiful community, the most beautiful homes that are energy-efficient, that are sustainable, that check all the boxes of what a community should have,” Means explained.
The reservation is also a food desert. According to Means, Thunder Valley has a plan in place.
“We have a two-and-a-half-acre demonstration farm with nearly 500 chickens at any given time to provide local fresh eggs, a community garden where we can provide farmer's markets to community members.”
At the end of the day, each piece of the Thunder Valley puzzle has a purpose. It’s a purpose of circling back to their roots.
“Each of the houses are in circles of seven. And as Otani Shockey, as the seven council fires, that's how we arranged ourselves when we would all come together. They open to the east to welcome the sun,” Means said.
She tells us it’s their way of healing from the past. She wants her people to move forward and break the cycle of poverty.
“It's our own living expression of liberation. It's not the only way. It's not the right way. But it's our way,” she said. “And we want as many people as possible to come along in this journey as we define what it means to be Lakota in this day and age, in the 21st Century.”