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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