We’re doing another Kickstarter campaign for Pine Ridge this year to pay for irrigation, fixing up housing and a number of other projects we have ongoing. See our photos, stories and more at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/892430421/permablitz-for-pine-ridge-reservation-2013. Our intention is to contribute to the creation of food and water sovereignty, healthy shelter and alternative energy on the reservation.
It’s almost May, there is two feet of snow in the swales we dug in 2011 at Pine Ridge, and we might get there this year just in time to hit yet another snow storm. But we have plenty of blankets and layers; we have shovels and other tools; we’re bringing up some hard to get plants in a trailer; we’re going to plant 500 trees there this year. Plus get a beehive going, create some rainwater catchment, fill a pond, and anything else we have the resources and manpower to complete.
Food forests at Pine Ridge reservation are full of metaphor. The Lakota have experienced a long history of sabotage of their food supply. Pine Ridge has recently declared itself sovereign. There is a place in that for the seven generation food and water security that can be created by a food forest. Food forests can create calm amidst storm; they are resilient for generations.
There is a spirit to Pine Ridge that keeps us coming back for more. It’s hard to describe. People have tried. You have to read between the lines to see it, without going there yourself and experiencing it.
As we are getting ready for our yearly trip, we started thinking about some of the highlights of last year’s journey in May of 2012.
About how the badlands looked with the sun setting on them when we were driving from Rapid City to Thunder Valley with a car stuffed so full of plants it felt like a jungle in there.
How the wind blew so hard one day you could stand at a 45 degree angle and not fall down and how we still dug trench and laid irrigation, leaning sideways. It was kind of fun. You could yell and the wind would take your voice somewhere into the next field, but the person next to you couldn’t hear you too well.
How the wind blew kept blowing so hard it shredded not one, but two of my tents! Both of them! And then someone just gave me a tent out of the blue. Which was low profile, thankfully (I know this secret well, having spent a month with my high profile tent wall resting on my face whenever the wind blew, the first year I stayed there – it miraculously did not shred or break). I had loaned my low profile to someone else so was using one of those high profile family sized jobs that someone loaned me – which does not work at Pine Ridge – do not bring! LOL. Do not bring!
How the high school group that was there helping us dig trench in the sleet (yes, it sleeted and froze after the frost date of May 15, and after we planted tomatoes for Kimilelee that all died 🙁 got smart and used their cars and vans as wind breaks for their tents. They made a guild, while we, on the other hand, were scattered about like random, forlorn fruit trees with no skirt or blanket, or like stranger cats at opposite ends of the yard with their backs turned on each other in a snow storm. (Pine Ridge kind of has a way of making you want to enjoy all that wide open prairie space, so we pitch our tents all over the field and embrace the weather)
How most of the volunteers who said they would come, didn’t show up, and we ended up with between three and six (at various times) super intrepid tree-hole-digging souls who we will love forever and ever. 😀
How I walked the field where we planted hundreds of honey locusts the year before, that didn’t get any water because the water tank broke, and they were still alive – I saw their buds just starting to come out and jumped and danced around them for joy.
How we helped set up the garden at the jail and planted a bunch of golden currants for a border and I’m thinking, I gotta come back when these are in season and taste at least just one because I’ve never had one. How intrigued I am by the berries that grow in colder climates that I’ve never tried!
How we stopped at a grocery store on the reservation and they had three shelves of white bread, and the only fresh food was one orange and one apple. And the closest place to buy fresh or organic food is 100 miles away in Rapid City.
How much the kids loved watering the plants.
How big the sky is, how many stars you can see, and how the 80 mile 360 degree clear view of the lands from Slim Butte looks.
How Bryan from Oglala Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitalization Initiative always comes up with these brilliant engineering ideas for things he has never dealt with before, but he just “sees” it, and how he then turns around and comes up with a brilliant idea for some issue in the community – such a well rounded genius.
How so many people helped us – how Dave Jacke sent us some awesome food forest plants, how Oikos and Bountiful Gardens donated some beautiful trees and bushes, how people who don’t know us from Adam believed in us and made it happen (and we could not have done nearly as much as we did without all of that).
How children were gently helped and encouraged to be a part of everything and how the kids had some serious skill sets at pretty young ages.
How Nick and Scott took people who came to visit Thunder Valley out back to the food forest to eat leaves off the linden tree, just to see their expression. J
How they were so helpful – how they got somebody out to dig a pond on really short notice, and how they made it happen to move and plant four 170 pound trees and how enthusiastic and engaged in creating resilience on the reservation. And how big the scope and breadth of their dream is.
How hard working and dedicated Shannon from Earth Tipi is, how much she has gotten done and she is still going.
How we would look up from digging and planting trees and there would be a horse at full gallop with a bareback rider, streaming by in the ditch. Or we were driving home one day and there was a Lakota in full headdress, riding down the highway bareback on a horse.
How, when we’re planting the butternut trees, we’re thinking – these trees will be here ten generations from now, still bearing food. We’re thinking of how the soil will be built over time, the temperatures modified, the wind calmed in the leaves. And how that center of calm abundance can spread outward once it is established.
How beautiful the apple tree buds looked when they started coming out. And how alive all the plants looked, and what a nice mix of plants we were able to get: serviceberries, nanking cherries, goldenberries, butternuts, cold tolerant pecans, hazels, three kinds of apple, pear, plum, apricot, goji berry, gooseberry, raspberries, buffalo berry, Siberian pea shrub, lilac, linden, pine, cottonwood, honey locust.
How one day when we were exhausted and still had lots of stuff to plant, and wondering how we got ourselves into this. We get out of the car, and a bald eagle circles above us three times, pretty low so we could see all the colors and feathers and his expression, and then soars off to the east. And we wondered in a different way then, and got to work.
Last year’s tree planting and gardening at Pine Ridge has led to expanded plans for this year! Our plans include three food forests at Pine Ridge this year, with three different organizations on the rez. We will also help install gardens and give classes on the techniques we’ll be using. We’ll be there from late April to mid-May, . Planting will occur Apr 29, May 1-4 and May 5-9.
We still need volunteers! We have a Kickstarter campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/892430421/pine-ridge-reservation-food-forest-2012-0
Pine Ridge reservation is a “food desert” in the extreme sense of the word. There are almost no organic foods being sold on the reservation. People often have to drive two hours or 100 miles to get organic or fresh vegetables or fruits. Diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related diseases are at epidemic proportions on the rez. The infant mortality and early death rates are some of the worst in the world. Food security is a major issue. The land is harsh – with severe, drying winds, hail in July, and freezes in June and August sometimes. Insect pests are ubiquitous. It can be challenging to grow things on this land.
Food forests are a way of working with nature to create stable ecosystems that grow lots of food. We mimic how a natural ecosystem of trees would behave in this zone. Because this is open prairie land and the main trees are pine forests, we will be experimenting to some degree to create a good microclimate for fruit trees. There are a number of successful orchards around that we are learning from.
Forests create milder temperatures (cooler in summer, warmer in winter), windbreaks, water capture, erosion control, and many other benefits. One can have a small food forest in the backyard, or a larger one on a few acres. Agroforestry is another version of using trees to produce food. There are many advantages to all of these approaches and they can be integrated in the existing ecosystem in ways that enhance the ecosystem.
The Lakota are known for buffalo hunting, but they also traditionally appreciated the wild plant food that grows in the region. We’ll be including native edibles traditionally used by Lakota in our food forest, as well as other fruits and nuts that are of interest.
Food forests provide a food system that mimics the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tradition of the Lakota. We are creating demonstration/experimental forest gardens this year and will continue to document progress, make it publicly available, enhance the forests, and help plant new ones in years to come. This is not a one shot deal!
We need donations of trees, seeds and plants, irrigation piping and equipment, rain catchment containers, and funding for travel and food expenses for experts who will install and educate while there. We also need volunteers to help with planting, and are looking for skilled volunteers to help install irrigation, water catchment, and other systems.
Two members of Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) Koreen Brennan and Bob Lawrason, will be headed to Pine Ridge in late April for approximately three weeks, from the Tampa Bay area. We are looking for other volunteers to come up from the Tampa area to carpool and share travel costs. There will also be volunteers coming from Oregon, Wisconsin, California and elsewhere.
Please consider a tax deductible donation via our donation Pay Pal button.
If you have donations of materials or would like to volunteer, please contact us via the web site!
We focused on the natural world this year at Pine Ridge, immersing ourselves in nature awareness and communion with the land.
It started with the arrival of over 100 wild horses rescued for release on 8000 acres of prairie stewarded by Oglala-Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitilization Initiative. Nothing could embody the spirit of freedom via self-sufficiency that we’re striving for more than to watch, from the garden, this wild herd in full gallop across the range – purely because they feel like it. Our breath ends up in our throat regularly in response to the beauty and majesty of this animal.
We had many chances to watch the behavior of the wild herd and learn design lessons from it. We’ll share some of those in future articles.
As beautiful and intriguing the horses are, our biggest focus for this year was food sovereignty. Pine Ridge is a “food desert”, with almost no grocery stores on the rez (many people travel 1 hour or more to Rapid City, paying huge sums in fuel costs as well as for groceries), and almost no local, fresh food available. There are small, positive changes being made, and we made connections with some other great organizations on the rez also working on this issue – Roots and Shoots has installed several community gardens in Kyle and other areas, and Thunder Valley is engaging the community in discussions about the subject, raising awareness and gathering information on needs and resources. They have also helped create more access to the few farmer’s markets on the rez. The Pine Ridge Fire Dept is growing a community garden and giving the food away to the public, and this will be a good outlet for our excess crops as well.
Our goal was to make what we did in our garden as relevant and useful for others as possible, and we’ve been gathering information about what people are struggling with in trying to grow food on the rez for a couple of years now.
We decided to completely redo the garden (as the original wasn’t designed for water catchment) and create an experimental site in order to find out exactly what people deal with in the harsh climate of the plains.
A common gardening method here is what could be described as “scorched earth.” In an effort to keep pests from finding the garden, people mow down the prairie grass for dozens of feet surrounding it, leaving the soil exposed to dry winds and baking sun in the summer, and erosion in the wet season. We decided to try to see what would happen if we let succession happen naturally and worked with nature instead of against her, letting the “weeds” grow near the garden.
We sheet mulched about 1/4 acre with composted manure (plenty of it on the ranch), and straw, cut a swale, measured out a pond, and cut paths to capture rainwater and send it into the garden.
We created two small greenhouses out of pallet boxes and old clear tarp lying around. They didn’t warm things up much, but they protected young seedlings from wind, hail and creatures. We planted more than 80 species of heirloom veggie, herb and flower seeds, to see how each would do in this particular environment, and started a spreadsheet to keep track of results.
Because we didn’t do the scorched earth thing, our garden filled up quickly with pigweed, lambsquarter, the dreaded goathead and wild sunflowers. Pigweed and lambsquarter are very edible and also dynamic accumulators, and the pig loves them. So we let them stay and added their nutrition to our salads and potherb dishes.
Goathead is another matter. It is a ground cover pioneer species that spawns a vicious burr that has two giant spikes on it like devils horns, or goat’s horns (thus the name), sharp enough to flatten a bicycle tire or leave a gaping, bleeding wound in your foot. The manure we used for the sheet mulch was inundated with goathead seeds. So we weeded a lot more than we usually do. Normally we would have just mulched it into non-existence, but we also wanted to try out numerous heirloom veggie and herb species this year, and we got a late start for a number of reasons, so we left the beds uncovered to plant seeds and seedlings. Next year, our strategy will be to let the goathead come up while growing seedlings in the greenhouse and allowing the soils to warm up, mulch it down, then plant in the mulch. That way, we should avoid having to weed at all, while adding fertility and protection to the soil.
By pushing the system, opening it to pests and weather, we discovered which varieties did well and which didn’t. We also learned a tremendous amount about the challenges people face when trying to grow vegetables in this tough climate (hot, dry summers, very cold winters, hail the size of baseballs sometimes, strong, dry winds, only a three to four month frost-free window, heavy clay-silt soils, and tons of pests – every plant chomping and sucking insect you could think of seems to live here, and some I had hardly imagined! The abundance of insect life is quite impressive). Though it took some courage because we knew we would probably lose crops, we wanted to deal with what we’ve seen the average gardener dealing with her, and see how hard it would be to get those factors under control, starting from an imbalanced system.
We had visits from just about every pest that must exist in these parts. That was interesting, as I have rarely had to deal with pests in the balanced systems we set up. But, from our surveys done last year, we found that many people do deal with them on the rez and handling them organically seems difficult. So, what works once they are in the system and active?
We wrote an article about our findings, here:
We spent many hours researching suitable plant species for the area – which are invasive? Which are toxic to horses or cows? (many of our favorite nitro fixers and other permaculture staples are toxic to horses – we now have a pretty thorough list). Which are easy to grow, drought and cold tolerant, nutritious and healthy, similar to what people already eat and like, etc? We came up with a list we were excited about (and still are – some of the things on the list did really well – for instance, we now have several hundred sunchoke plants on our swales and will be adding many more next year – a real survival native crop that grows well under a wide range of conditions found here. Bonus – the inulin in them helps with diabetes, something that 60% of the people on the rez suffer from).
In the midst of planting and caring for the garden, mid-June, we got a hot tip about some bare root trees that could be bought for almost nothing. We were planning to do a food forest, and this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to get the wind break trees we needed to create a suitable microclimate for the more delicate fruit trees we’ve wanted to plant on the plains. We ended up getting more than 600 trees – 400+ honey locusts alone.
Getting 600 trees planted fast when you weren’t planning on it can be a bit of a challenge! Since they were bare root and it was late in the season, soon to become hot and dry, we couldn’t take our time about it – we had about three days before trees started dying.
We received some amazing assistance from Bryan Deans, head of OLCERI, who commandeered getting 600 holes dug with his bobcat in only a few hours, and from three volunteers, Dave Karp, Felicia Hobart and Dani Slabaugh, all of who worked extra long hours to make it happen. We got some key natives into the food forest system such as buffalo berry, hackberry, and cottonwood, and other edibles like rugosa rose, caragena, elderberry, and hawthorn. And windbreaks up in many of the major areas (though we still need cedars, which will come next year).
Many of these trees can be easily propagated, so next year, we will create dozens of pots to give out to people who need windbreaks and/or fodder. Already, we have a number of requests from others on the rez for honey locusts and some of the others for next spring.
The trees are beautiful – leaves swaying in the wind and new growth shooting up faster than usual (probably because of the mychrorrhizia we soaked the roots in and added to the soil). We can’t wait until next spring when the sweet fragrence and flowers of 400 honey locusts will fill the area. This tree has so many uses – it is great fodder for animals, much of it is edible for humans, but perhaps its strongest quality for the mostly treeless prairie is the wood, which grows rapidly and does not rot. It can be used for posts for fences, for firewood (which can be lifesaving in prairie winters), or for round beams in buildings. We visited a greenhouse earlier in the year in Wisconsin that is built from raw trunk wood of black locust, which has similar properties. The architecture is beautiful, and there is a lot less waste of wood. We can coppice honey locust trees for the wood without killing them, and continue to enjoy their beauty for many years. Another possible bonus is that they may fix nitrogen. Though their roots do not collect the nodules usually associated with nitrogen fixers, and some people insist they do not fix nitrogen, there is scientific evidence that they do bring nitrogen to the soil. We’ll be watching how other plants do around them, next year.
We created a list for a seven layer food forest that focuses on native and traditional edibles and medicinals of the Lakota, as well as a wide variety of fruit and nut trees that grow in this climate zone. We are trying a few species that grow in warmer zones, to see how we do with our microclimates. In an area with extremely harsh winters (wind chill of down to -50 F, wide temperature swings, early and late frosts, etc), this is a special challenge. We would love hearing from and exchanging knowledge with people who have food forest experience in this type of climate!
Some of our plants did splendidly well, growing with wild exuberance and abundance, while others struggled with the climate and soils. We’re documenting the heirloom varieties that do the best, so we can share that knowledge with the rest of the rez (and publicly, via our web site). Again, we’re very interested in hearing from others who are gardening in W South Dakota or NW Nebraska climates, their successes, their favorite varieties, etc. Please feel free to post on our page or share on our facebook page at
Our other major project was documenting some of the wild edibles on the prairie. We explored our pasture and the larger range, documenting wild medicinals and edibles and where they are to be found. This has only begun, but we found many wonderful species and will be continuing that project next year. We’re sharing some of our findings on our partner Facebook site at facebook.com/olceri. Check out the photo albums on our Facebook sites, of our gardens, food forests, horses, Pine Ridge life, and more.
Apprenticeship, volunteer and internship programs on Pine Ridge. Read more
These statistics and the photo piece are tough to look at – they are why we are there. We and you can make a difference. We welcome your assistance, it is rewarding work. There are many cultural revitilization activities on the rez and some amazing and beautiful people. Please see the photos in our gallery after you read this to see some of the positive that is happening! But it is also important to understand the overall state of the rez because it becomes apparent how much of a difference a combination of permaculture and cultural revitalization can make.
* 97% of of the population at Pine Ridge Reservation live below federal poverty line.
* The unemployment rate vacillates from 85% to 95% on the Reservation.
* Death due to Heart Disease: Twice the national average.
* The infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and is about 300% higher than the U.S. national average.
* Elderly die each winter from hypothermia (freezing).
* Recent reports point out that the median income on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
* At least 60% of the homes are severely substandard, without water, electricity, adequate insulation, and sewage systems.
* Recent reports state the average life expectancy is 45 years old while others state that it is 48 years old for men and 52 years old for women. With either set of figures, that’s the shortest life expectancy for any community in the Western Hemisphere outside Haiti, according to The Wall Street Journal.
* The 11,000-square mile (over 2 million acres) Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation is the second-largest Native American Reservation within the United States. It is roughly the size of the State of Connecticut.
* There is no industry, technology, or commercial infrastructure on the Reservation to provide employment.
* The nearest town of size (which provides some jobs for those few persons able to travel the distance) is Rapid City, South Dakota with approximately 57,000 residents. It is located approximately 120 miles from the Reservation. The nearest large city to Pine Ridge is Denver, Colorado located about 350 miles away.
* Teenage suicide rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is 150% higher than the U.S. national average for this age group.
* The topography of the Pine Ridge Reservation includes badlands, rolling grassland hills, dryland prairie, and areas dotted with pine trees.
* According to the 1998 Bureau of Indian Affairs Census, the Pine Ridge Reservation is home to approximately 40,000 persons, 35% of which are under the age of 16. Approximately half the residents of the Reservation are registered tribal members of the Oglala Lakota Nation.
* The population is steadily rising, despite the severe conditions on the Reservation, as more and more Oglala Lakota return home from far-away cities in order to live within their societal values, be with their families, and assist with the revitalization of their culture and their Nation.
* More than half the Reservation’s adults battle addiction and disease. Alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and malnutrition are rampant.
* The rate of diabetes on the Reservation is reported to be 800% higher than the U.S. national average.
* Recent reports indicate that almost 50% of the adults on the Reservation over the age of 40 have diabetes. Over 37% of population is diabetic.
* As a result of the high rate of diabetes on the Reservation, diabetic-related blindness, amputations, and kidney failure are common.
* The tuberculosis rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately 800% higher than the U.S. national average.
* Cervical cancer is 500% higher than the U.S. national average.
* It is reported that at least 60% of the homes, many of them government housing, on the Pine Ridge Reservation are infested with Black Mold, Stachybotrys. This infestation causes an often-fatal condition with infants, children, elderly, those with damaged immune systems, and those with lung and pulmonary conditions at the highest risk. Exposure to this mold can cause hemorrhaging of the lungs and brain as well as cancer.
* Many Reservation residents live without health care due to vast travel distances involved in accessing that care. Additional factors include under-funded, under-staffed medical facilities and outdated or non-existent medical equipment. There is little hope for increased funding for Indian health care.
* School drop-out rate is over 70%.
* According to a Bureau of Indian Affairs report, the Pine Ridge Reservation schools are in the bottom 10% of school funding by U.S. Department of Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
* Teacher turnover is 800% that of the U.S. national average
* The small Tribal Housing Authority homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation are so overcrowded and scarce that many homeless families often use tents or cars for shelter. Many families live in shacks, old trailers, or dilapidated mobile homes.
* There is a large homeless population on the Reservation, but most families never turn away a relative no matter how distant the blood relation. Consequently, many homes have large numbers of people living in them.
* There is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home (a home which may only have two to three rooms). Some homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.
* 60% of Reservation families have no telephone.
* Over 33% of the Reservation homes lack basic water and sewage systems as well as electricity.
* Many residents must carry (often contaminated) water from the local rivers daily for their personal needs.
* 39% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity.
* 59% of the Reservation homes are substandard.
* It is reported that at least 60% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation need to be burned to the ground and replaced with new housing due to infestation of the potentially-fatal Black Mold, Stachybotrys. There is no insurance or government program to assist families in replacing their homes.
* Many Reservation homes lack adequate insulation. Even more homes lack central heating.
* Without basic insulation or central heating in their homes, many residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation use their ovens to heat their homes.
* Many Reservation homes lack stoves, refrigerators, beds, and/or basic furniture.
* Most Reservation families live in rural and often isolated areas.
* The largest town on the Reservation is the town of Pine Ridge which has a population of approximately 5,720 people and is the administrative center for the Reservation.
* There are few improved roads on the Reservation and many of the homes are inaccessible during times of heavy snow or rain.
* Weather is extreme on the Reservation. Severe winds are always a factor. Traditionally, summer temperatures reach well over 110*F and winters bring bitter cold with temperatures that can reach -50*F below zero or worse. Flooding, tornados, or wildfires are always a risk.
* Many of the wells and much of the water and land on the Reservation is contaminated with pesticides and other poisons from farming, mining, open dumps, and commercial and governmental mining operations outside the Reservation. A further source of contamination is buried ordnance and hazardous materials from closed U.S. military bombing ranges on the Reservation.
* The Pine Ridge Reservation still has no banks, motels, discount stores, or movie theaters. It has only one grocery store of any moderate size and it is located in the town of Pine Ridge on the Reservation.
* Several of the banks and lending institutions nearest to the Reservation were recently targeted for investigation of fraudulent or predatory lending practices, with the citizens of the Pine Ridge Reservation as their victims.
* There are no public libraries except one at the Oglala Lakota College of the reservation.
* There is no public transportation available on the Reservation.
* Ownership of operable automobiles by residents of the Reservation is highly limited.
* Predominate form of travel for all ages on the Reservation is walking or hitchhiking.
* There is one radio station on the Pine Ridge Reservation. KILI 90.1FM is located near the town of Porcupine on the Reservation.
* Alcoholism affects eight out of ten families on the Reservation.
* The death rate from alcohol-related problems on the Reservation is 300% higher than the remaining US population.
* The Oglala Lakota Nation has prohibited the sale and possession of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation since the early 1970’s. However, the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska (which sits 400 yards off the Reservation border in a contested “buffer” zone) has approximately 14 residents and four liquor stores which sell over 4.1 million cans of beer each year resulting in a $3million annual trade. Unlike other Nebraska communities, Whiteclay exists only to sell liquor and make money. It has no schools, no churches, no civic organizations, no parks, no benches, no public bathrooms, no fire service and no law enforcement. Tribal officials have repeatedly pleaded with the State of Nebraska to close these liquor stores or enforce the State laws regulating liquor stores but have been consistently refused.
* Scientific studies show that the High Plains/Oglala Aquifer which begins underneath the Pine Ridge Reservation is predicted to run dry within the next thirty years, possibly as early as the year 2005, due to commercial interest use and dryland farming in numerous states south of the Reservation. This critical North American underground water resource is not renewable at anything near the present consumption rate. The recent years of drought have simply accelerated the problem.
* Scientific studies show that much of the High Plains/Oglala Aquifer has been contaminated with farming pesticides and commercial, factory, mining, and industrial contaminants in the States of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
* The Tribal nations are considered to have sovereign governmental status and have a government to government relationship with the United States. The Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribal government operates under a constitution consistent with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and approved by the Tribal membership and Tribal Council of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe. The Tribe is governed by an elected body consisting of a 5 member Executive Committee and an 18 member Tribal Council, all of whom serve a four year term.
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Many good things came from the Permaculture Design Course we held last September in Pine Ridge Lakota reservation. Our project is on target to be self-sustaining within three years and has moved beyond that in a number of ways.
Bryan Deans and OLCERI (Oglala-Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitalization Initiative), who hosted the course, decided to focus on the economics side of permaculture, the benefits of which would move far beyond Bryan’s own self-sufficient ranch project and throughout the entire reservation.
Almost immediately after the course, Bryan began teaching a farmer/rancher program on the rez, incorporating permaculture principles such as microlending. Ranchers are lent five cows which calf, thereby giving them a small herd which they can build up. They can give back the cows, or younger ones, once the herd is established. Farmers are given seed and loaned equipment as needed as well. A cooperative is in its formative stages which will allow the farmers and ranchers to share equipment, buy in bulk and market more effectively.
This is a true community effort that, if translated to other industries as well, could spread throughout the entire reservation and reverse the long term cycle of poverty which has continued to make this county the poorest in the US. It will also set an example for industry throughout the US.
Other potential economic engines and cooperatives include sustainable logging and milling, biodiesel, manufacture of high efficiency rocket/sawdust type stoves and water heaters, natural home building, traditional Lakota crafts such as leatherwork and beadwork, and the raising of other types of animals including horses and buffalo.
These cooperatives can be woven into the lives of the People and their ancient ways. The successes of the Mondragon cooperative, which was created by the Basque tribe in Spain and now includes dozens of profitable enterprises, are an inspiration – the Lakota will bring their unique traditions and wisdom to the council fires. Bryan’s vision is to focus on industries that complement and support one another, and are environmentally and culturally sustainable or regenerative.
The tribe has received a substantial grant, part of which can be used toward rehabilitating the two million acres of prairie that the reservation encompasses. The rez has been heavily damaged by overgrazing and other abuse to the point where the clay-silt soils are so impacted that succession has not moved beyond pioneer stage in many areas, and only short, tough buffalo grass survives in clumps – in contrast to the tall, diverse prairie grasses that grew thick and rich as far as one could see when the People managed it. Erosion is a huge problem, with dams blowing out regularly from the heavy force of water and canyons being cut deeper and deeper. For generations, the plains were sustainably managed by the People who used controlled burns and buffalo to revitalize the fertile prairie grass system and keep it healthy. Last year, Bryan and Warren Brush of Quail Springs, who taught the PDC then and will teach it again this August, created plans to use keyline and permaculture techniques to regenerate Bryan’s 8000 acre ranch, but since then the plans have gotten much bigger.
Diverse prairie grass systems are one of the best carbon sequestering systems on the planet, even better than forests in some cases. Pine Ridge reservation consists of two million acres that could be rehabbed, and Bryan has a plan that could leverage available funding into a 10 year program to do it (via the economic cooperatives). Not only will this create carbon sequestering on a huge scale, it will create substantial long term employment on a rez that experiences between 60-90% unemployment, and will revitalize natural resources and ecosystems for the tribe that will last for many generations. This is OLCERI’s vision – and Warren will teach a Keyline course this summer to kick it off. OLCERI is looking for donations for keyline plows as the grant money does not necessarily cover equipment like this. The entire machine is not needed, but only the plow head, as tractors are available that can be used. We would like teach the first crew of Lakota this July how to keyline design and plow and get them started on an historic 3000 acre watershed on tribal lands that OLCERI controls currently.
Last year’s course had some other great results. One student is doing a permaculture project at a different location on the rez and will be offering a number of courses this year including cob building and food forestry.
Two other students are currently working on an economic and water revitilization project with the Huichol Indians of Mexico, and another student has brought the 13 grandmothers into her network of sustainability in Northern California.
OLCERI, in tandem with Koreen Brennan with Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) will be holding four permaculture courses this year on the rez and is also offering internships and apprenticeships. The courses will be: Straw bale building (to complete a workshop on OLCERI’s site that will have multiple functions); Regenerative Skills – a unique course for young adults which will incorporate ancient Lakota skills such as hunting with bow and arrow, tracking, beadwork, medicinal herbs, etc, with permaculture design; the Permaculture Design Certificate Course, and Keyline Design. In addition, Koreen Brennan at Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) is partnering with Sustainable Homestead Designs (http://www.sustainablehomesteaddesigns.org/Sustainable_Homestead_Designs/Welcome.html , a project to create a fully self-sufficient off the grid demonstration homestead on the rez, to teach a food forestry course and plant a food forest at that location.
All of the courses will serve multiple functions – bringing new energy to the reservation via outside students, completing strategically key projects to move toward regenerative self-sufficiency, and creating economic engines that will move beyond OLCERI to positively impact the entire reservation and set a model and example for others.
The course for young adults flanks successful Lakota youth programs, such as Kiza and Running Strong, that focus on empowering youth at risk by providing cultural opportunities. In addition, youth will learn the rudiments of marketable skill sets such as straw bale building and sustainable farming and ranching.
Because of the work we did last year, we are already getting strong interest in the courses for this year, so early enrollment is encouraged. Our goals to fund significant Lakota participation via paying students from outside the rez will be met with full enrollment.
Additional intern/apprentice projects at OLCERI this summer include:
Planting a kitchen garden
Planting a communal food forest in the riparian area of tribal lands
Planting wind breaks on the ranch for energy efficiency and to protect the animals and gardens
Creating water catchment and irrigation
Completing the wind power and biodiesel project so the ranch is fully off the grid energy wise
Building a straw bale workshop
We continue to seek funding for materials for the straw bale building, keyline plow, trees for the food forest, and heavy equipment needed for prairie rehabilitation.
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For more information contact Koreen@growpermaculture.com
We have registered with Permaculture Research Institute as an outreach program that meets their criteria for support. More info at the following link:
Writing from the rez – the course is starting to wrap up with students going off into their own world, working on their design projects. I’ve been working with OLCERI (Oglala Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitalization Initiative) for several years and helped raise funding for their initial projects, but this is the first partnership for Permaculture Guild and OLCERI.
The course was held on an 8000 acre cattle ranch on the rez, run by Bryan Deans. Bryan also heads a youth organization called Running Strong, which gives Lakota youth experience training and riding horses on the ranch and gaining other traditional skills.
Some of the students who arrived early for the course helped raise the tipis that dot his pasture amidst horses and a round pole shade shelter.
Bryan has many projects ongoing – homemade wind generators, veggie oil biodiesal, straw bale retrofit of flimsy homes, super efficient heating stoves using “waste” fuels to counteract the sometimes brutally cold winds that sweep the rez, and a plan to provide food for the rez on tribal common lands, a return to the wildcraft gathering ways of the Lakota. Bryan’s ranch is an ideal place for permaculture design – so many resources yet so much damage. Illegal overgrazing by a white rancher on tribal lands has created huge erosion and water catchment problems which permaculture is well-qualified to solve.
Our expert guest permaculture instructor, Warren Brush, has communicated many ideas about how to regenerate rangeland, not only to catch water, but to again grow the tall prairie grasses that have been unable to find a foothold in the denuded landscape. He has shared knowledge about intensive raising of grass fed cattle and other animals, as well as integrating multiple systems such as aquaculture (fish and water plants), food forests and more. This is big country, with lots of potential.
The students are learning about Lakota ways and perspectives as they absorb knowledge about weather, natural patterns in landscapes and in communities, living soil and water, and the transactions of trees and how all of these relate to designing for abundance in human systems. They are also getting practical hands on knowledge – how to create a 21 day compost pile, how to do a cold frame graywater system, how to make energy efficient stoves.
Bryan’s vision is large – he wants to regenerate all 2 million acres of the reservation, he wants to use straw bale to retrofit the very energy inefficient housing that dots the rez, for warmth in winter and coolness in summer, he wants to create food forests all over the rez to feed his people and he wants to create a sustainability school where anyone can come to learn about how to live a truly sustainable life. There are others on the rez who also share large visions – how appropriate for the Lakota to lead the way in teaching sustainable practices.
The Permaculture Guild wants to back up this vision, and in conjunction with OLCERI, we are planning a series of courses on regenerative practices at the rez next year. One aspect of the program will be a youth component, where youth programs at Pine Ridge will team up with Permaculture Guild to create an apprenticeship program for youth on and off the rez. Skills will include natural building, cattle cutting and herding, native wildcraft and herbs, permaculture design, wilderness survival and tracking, etc. Career mentoring will be included as a part of this program as well.
Other workshops will include straw bale and super adobe building, water systems, wind turbines, biodiesel production and of course, permaculture design. Warren Brush has agreed to return next year to bring his wisdom and expertise on permaculture design to a new group of PDC students in September. More news soon!
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