Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Young Community Members Rebuild Porcupine Powwow Arbor
Capacity Building Program from Thunder Valley CDC Empowers Native Yong Adults People to Support Their Community
Published September 10, 2015
PORCUPINE, SOUTH DAKOTA—The Porcupine District Powwow grounds had seen better days. Rotting wood, rusty nails, mildew and peeling paint left the community wondering when and how the space could be improved.
“All the communities have powwows, and sometimes their grounds—the arbor—it looks really nice.” Says Eric Brown Bull of Sharps Corner, South Dakota. “But some of the top parts at ours were rotted down. You could just pull it off with your hands.”
Eric is a participant in the Workforce Development Through Sustainable Construction Program, a program from Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (Thunder Valley CDC) that trains and educates adults, 18 to 26 years old, in the skills and methods necessary for eco-friendly, sustainable home construction on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Through classroom and hands-on training, participants gain the skills and experience necessary to join the construction industry, continue their education, and contribute to their local economy.
Prior to the annual Labor Day Powwow in Porcupine, the crew from Thunder Valley CDC decided it was time to give the community space the attention it needed.
“We’ve started pulling out a lot of old nails,” says Brown Bull. “All the old boards were taken off – they were wobbly and rotted.” The crew quickly realized, however, that the project was going to be larger than they had anticipated.
“We realized that there was more to fix,” says Jay Pond of Pine Ridge, another participant who committed to working on the community service project. “It’s all about helping the community, and we were able to get more materials, so we just rebuilt the whole thing! It felt really good to see where we started and what it looks like now.”
Lenny Lone Hill, Thunder Valley CDC’s construction trainer works with the small group of participants to develop the skillset needed to build and maintain their own home, and the homes of others in the community. Lone Hill says that the community service work at the powwow grounds is all part of the learning process. The skills they’re practicing while refurbishing the arbor, he says, not only increase their ability to construct and troubleshoot, but also remind them why they do the work, and how their work will affect others.
“It’s all for the community. And I always let them know: What we do means something to a lot of people,” says Lone Hill. “You never do anything for nothing. Even if you don’t get paid, you still get that ‘feel good’ feeling, the feeling of accomplishment. You’ll walk away and say: “Look what we did.”
While ‘feel good’ feelings certainly kept spirts high despite record high temperatures, participants also had the opportunity to practice important construction skills.
“I also got a lot of practice working with measurements, replacing the sheeting… new stringers. It was a good project,” says participant Terrell Ironshell of Kyle, South Dakota. “I hope everyone enjoyed themselves at the powwow last weekend in this new arbor.”
Many of the participants felt the same, gaining a sense of accomplishment and community while also gaining practical skills that will empower them to craft a future career.
“I like looking back and knowing that we did that. It feels good,” says Richard Tall of Evergreen, SD. “We got a lot of hands-on practice and support and counseling from the staff being in the workforce program. I’ve learned a lot since working here. I had never worked with power tools or hand tools before this and I think I could probably make a shed right now if I wanted to!
The Workforce Development Through Sustainable Construction participants are now hard at work on the early stages of a regenerative community development site north of Sharps Corner, South Dakota. They’ll be laying the groundwork for new energy efficient homes this fall and spring in an effort to address the severe housing shortage on the reservation. Community members interested in the new homes or in the workforce program can contact the Thunder Valley CDC offices at 605-455-2700.