Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oglala Lakota Cultural and Environmental Revitalization Initiative (OLCERI)

Location: Pine Ridge Lakota reservation, South Dakota
Start Date: Sept 2009
Expected Completion Date (i.e. when the project is expected to be self-sufficient: Sept 2011

Project Concept:

The purpose of this project is to help create resilience and self-sufficiency among the people of Pine Ridge by using existing resources to design and create sustainable systems, abundant production of food, energy and shelter, and systems of local trade that will create economic independence. Key to this project is a “sustainability school” on the rez, run by the Lakota, that will teach residents and international students permaculture techniques and principles.

Buffalo sculpture on a round straw bale structure
Pine Ridge reservation is in the poorest county in the US. There is up to 90% unemployment and the diet, often supplemented by highly processed government food, has resulted in 60% diabetes or pre-diabetes. Crime and substance abuse are major situations. Much of the housing is inadequate for the weather and people die every year from exposure to cold and heat. Many of the houses are lined in black plastic which causes black mold and resultant health issues.
The weather is harsh – the land is open prairie or badlands. Harsh wind, storms, snow, ice, early fall and late spring freezes, tornados and hail are all a part of the ecosystem. The soil is clay silt and is degraded by overgrazing in many parts of the rez, and erosion and drought are problems. The one staple food source the rez has – prairie grass fed cattle and buffalo, is at severe risk in a drought or bad flood, which could wash out the incorrectly built dams. So keyline and correct dam building are both key to create a resilient water supply.

Erosion – what an opportunity for water catchment!
In spite of the barriers, the Lakota warrior spirit lives on – the Lakota people have declared themselves a sovereign nation, in line with the treaties they signed with the US government in the 1800s.

Observing the land from historic Slim Buttes lookout.
Visibility is 80 miles in four directions.
Self-sufficiency and sustainable, regenerative culture is essential to achieving real sovereignty. Bryan Deans, a Lakota who has a cattle ranch on the reservation has a program that is bringing that about. In partnership with the Permaculture Guild (, he has started a sustainability school that will act as a model for his people and all Native Americans, as well as others, for true sustainable practices.
At the heart of the school is an apprentice/business program which creates business opportunities and employment for residents of Pine Ridge. Using local resources of abundant land (the reservation comprises 2 million acres), Lakota can learn and implement sustainable models of raising animals, food forests, and crops. Natural building skills will also be perfected. Currently, there is a solar and wind program where solar conductive heating panels and wind towers are built and used at the rez.

Because of the high poverty level and long term oppression of the area, and because the land has been degraded long ago, this area needs a financial boost to bring it to the level where it can sustain itself. We are focused on ensuring that donations and investment into the area will result in self-sustaining programs. We are mainly interested in funding for equipment such as keyline plows, to rehabilitate the prairie soils and reduce erosion; and funding to cover the costs of training Lakota and other Native Americans in permaculture design.
The ranch where the school is located is large enough to build several demonstration natural buildings with the abundant clay and straw available, to have demonstration gardens and a food forest, and to raise a number of different types of animals (there are already pigs, cows, goats, horses, rabbits and sometimes chickens).

Warren Brush instructs students on how to capture
water in a 3000 acre watershed, dam building, keyline,
etc. Permaculture is a family affair at Pine Ridge
– the kids learn too.
In Sept 2009, the school was launched with a permaculture course taught by Warren Brush of Quail Springs. Warren showed Bryan how the prairie could be rehabilitated and made into an abundant source of food and water through the use of water and livestock management and food forestry. Warren designed keyline dams for a major watershed, and Bryan and Warren planned the planting of food forests in the canyons of the tribal lands, creating an abundant food supply for all of the Lakota people in their commons. The makings of a kitchen garden was started with 18-day compost piles, a root cellar was worked on and super-efficient sawdust stoves were created that could warm the homes of people who did not have sufficient heat (a nearby mill provides abundant sawdust). Plans were also discussed to increase the number of trees on the reservation, to help stabilize the environment and create wind breaks, etc.
The Lakota culture is steeped in the traditions that helped isolate permaculture principles of sustainable, resilient living, and it is fitting that the Lakota people are at the forefront of bringing that knowledge to the rest of the world.
The school will service Native Americans from other reservations and will serve as a transition, economic and educational model that can be replicated at these reservations.

Project Duration & Schedule:

Demonstrating how keyline and water capture
works, near the student tipis
We have planned several major permaculture courses for next summer (2010) – straw bale building workshop, PDC course and keyline plowing course with Warren Brush, and a youth/young adult sustainable apprenticeship course which will present permaculture principles alongside sustainable skill sets, all in a Native American context, such as caring for and butchering animals, leatherworking, gardening, building, wilderness survival, tracking, weaving, etc. We will also offer apprenticeships/internships in which major infrastructure projects will be completed (keyline, natural building, food forests, etc)
An ongoing beginning farmer-rancher program is now incorporating permaculture principles in its teaching program and also is in the planning stages of providing microlending of cows, seed, etc, to get people going, with continued support to ensure they are successful.
Straw bale retrofit of homes is in the planning and funding stages as a start-up business.
A number of cottage businesses are currently providing employment for Lakota and will now also apprentice them in sustainable methods (firewood business, building homes, cattle, wind and solar).

Project Needs:

  • Keyline plow – we have instant access to 8000 acres of watershed prairie to work on, and this could expand to many tens of thousands of acres, via the farmer-rancher program. We need the plow for a keyline workshop scheduled for 2010.
  • Funding for Lakota to attend natural building workshops, PDC and keyline design courses in 2010.

Other Info:

The courses are done in partnership between OLCERI and Permaculture Guild. Permaculture Guild teaches and markets the courses, OLCERI provides the site and infrastructure projects. Teaching duties will be transferred to OLCERI as soon as teachers from the reservation are trained and apprenticed. A percentage of the income made for any course goes to OLCERI, to fund the attendance of Lakota, materials, infrastructure, etc.

Native Plants: Restoring to an Idea

by Toby Hemenway

(presented at the Native Plants and Permaculture Conference, Lost Valley Educational Center, Dexter, Oregon, in May 2007.)

Let me tell you about the invasive plant that scares me more than all the others. It’s one that has infested over 80 million acres in the US, usually in virtual monocultures. It is a heavy feeder, depleting soil of nutrients. Everywhere it grows, the soil is badly eroded. The plant offers almost no wildlife habitat, and since it is wind pollinated, it does not provide nectar to insects. It’s a plant that is often overlooked on blacklists, yet it is responsible for the destruction of perhaps more native habitat than any other species. Research shows that when land is lost to this species, native plants rarely return; they can’t compete with it. It should go at the top of every native-plant lover’s list of enemies. This plant’s name: Zea mays, or corn. Corn is non-native. It’s from Central America. Next on my list is the soybean, with 70 million acres of native habitat lost to this invasive exotic. Following those two scourges on this roll call of devastating plants is the European invader called wheat.

Wait, you say: these plants are deliberately spread by people; that’s different! But to an ecologist, it is irrelevant that the dispersion vector of these plants is a primate. After all, we don’t excuse holly or Autumn olive, even though without bird dispersal, they could not spread. Why are corn, soy, and wheat not on any blacklists? Because we think of them differently than plants spread by non-humans. This suggests that an invasive species is an idea, a product of our thinking, not an objective phenomenon. When we restore land, we restore to an idea, not to objective criteria.

Read the rest and more of Toby's articles below...



The Vision of City Repair - Placemaking - Relocalizing - Reskilling - Re-Villaging

City Repair is an organized group action that educates and inspires communities and individuals to creatively transform the places where they live. City Repair facilitates artistic and ecologically-oriented placemaking through projects that honor the interconnection of human communities and the natural world. The many projects of City Repair have been accomplished by a mostly volunteer staff and thousands of volunteer citizen activists.

City Repair began in Portland, Oregon with the idea that localization - of culture, of economy, of decision-making - is a necessary foundation of sustainability. By reclaiming urban spaces to create community-oriented places, we plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication, empower our communities and nurture our local culture.

Intro to Placemaking

Placemaking is a multi-layered process within which citizens foster active, engaged relationships to the spaces which they inhabit, the landscapes of their lives, and shape those spaces in a way which creates a sense of communal stewardship and lived connection.  This is most often accomplished through a creative reclamation of public space: projects which take the form of benches on street corners where neighbors can sit, rest and talk with each other, kiosks on sidewalks where neighbors can post information about local events, needs and resources and street paintings in the public right-of-way that demonstrate to all who pass through that this is a Place: inhabited, known and loved by its residents.  In all instances, these projects are undertaken by local communities who come together to discuss what it is they want in their neighborhood – what elements are lacking in the public sphere and how the community can work together with the resources they have to create their own place.
Placemaking touches upon deeper societal issues and contributes to participatory democracy. As the process of developing a community place proceeds; people develop deeper relationships and more energy to create together because they live together. Creating a common ground that transcends the differences among people powerfully addresses this isolation and creates an environment where people feel like they can do anything they set their collect minds to.

Major Elements of Placemaking:

Natural Building: The essence of natural building lies in its inherent emphasis on environmental preservation and social sustainability.  Natural building is a method of construction based in using minimally processed, natural materials that are available locally.  The techniques for most natural building methods reflect the materials themselves in that they are simple, low-tech and ecologically sustainable.  Natural building employs a sense of the human-scale and isn’t dependent on expensive, energy intensive, high-tech equipment.  Natural building materials have low toxicity, are low-tech and local, making them great tools for teaching communities the synthesis of building principles in sustainability and social empowerment.
Permaculture: Permaculture is the conscious design of sustainable human settlements.  It is also about being local: shepherding the resources that enter a place; keeping them cycling within the “system,” be it backyard, neighborhood, or bioregion; and creating beneficial connections between each part.  Community and a sense of place can only be created by the people who dwell together and who have real stake in creating a home.
Public Art: Artwork in our neighborhoods can also create a strong sense of place, whether it is a mural, a sculpture, temporary art such as chalk drawings or functional art pieces like benches or lampposts.  Public art presents an opportunity for a neighborhood to tell its history, express local culture and have a fun project for anyone to get involved.