I first visited Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota while pursing my master’s degree in sustainable building. I interviewed residents who were trying to build houses for themselves, documented their struggles and successes, and published my findings. The people and landscape have drawn me back regularly ever since.

    I also helped (with varying degrees of involvement) with a few house-building projects over the years. All of these were conceived and organized by Shannon Freed, founder of Earth Tipi, a grassroots organization on the reservation. These projects are shared in the photos below, along with a few personal photos to help tell the story.

    The “Straw-clay house” project was the one for which I had the most involvement. We designed and built all the double wooden walls (plus one “template” truss) in four days. The lumber was donated and consequently very twisted and warped, but we knew we would not be attaching flat manufactured products (such as gypsum board) to it so it worked fine. Unfortunately I was not able to stay beyond the framing phase, but Shannon kept me updated.

   In the “Pole cabin” project I led a group of Americorp volunteers in setting posts, attaching sheathing and siding, making windows, and building the loft. It was a challenge to keep several untrained volunteers busy and productive but we got a lot done!

Various projects at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation