Natural Villages
Seva helps Native community build alternative housing

For Leola One Feather, a house is more than a home.  It's a way to create community, a pathway out of poverty, and a place from which the rich legacy of her Native American culture can thrive.  As a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, those concerns are integrally woven together for her.

Now, with support from Seva's Native American Grants Program, Leola is building a house that's more than a place to live — it's a model of sustainable technology and a symbol of strength and hope.

Seva awarded a grant to the Wounded Knee Community Council to help fund the construction of a cob home for Leola.  Cob homes are gaining popularity around the country because they are made from renewable and recycled materials.  Leola's new abode is intended as a model of sustainable and affordable home-building for Native Americans at Pine Ridge and across Indian country.  In fact, Leola is now working with Natural Villages, a group from California that promotes cob housing, to help spread the word.

Life at Pine Ridge

Covering over 3,400 square miles of the southwest corner of South Dakota, the Pine Ridge Reservation is home to approximately 30,000 Oglala Lakota people.  It's a tough life — the people of Pine Ridge live in some of the worst poverty conditions existing in the United States today.

Leola is a community activist at Pine Ridge, and one of her priority concerns is the lack of housing.  "We still have almost 50% of our people stuck in inadequate housing that isn't suitable for the weather conditions," Leola explains.  "There's a federal housing program where you put the sweat equity and they supply you with materials, but you still end up paying around $40,000 — and most people here can't afford that."

Earth-Friendly Low Cost Homes
Leola and others believe the cob home could be the answer to this housing crisis.  Her new home is being made with walls formed of cob, a mixture of clay soil, sand, water, and straw built on a foundation made from recycled bits of concrete.

"I saw that the cob technique is a way we can build a house with sustainable methods that are naturally energy-efficient — a house that's easy to cool and heat," says Leola.   "Best of all, this is a way to build a house for about $5,000, and we can use a lot of recycled materials.  We've got to stop milling the forest, and this new building method can help with that.  A cob house also has the beauty of being a natural home that blends in with the landscape and is pleasing to the eye."

Building a Strong Community
Leola's house has become something for the community to rally around.  It's being built with both community members and volunteers from the outside organized by Johanna Parry Cougar of Natural Villages.  Leola and Johanna have started a training program to bring knowledge about alternative building techniques and cob housing to others.

"Once you start that first house, it can become a village," Leola says.  "That's the whole idea.  Seeing my house being built has made other people want to do it."

You can help support Seva's Native American Programs — and celebrate your friends and family — with Gifts of Service .


Grants Program

Seva's Native American Grants Program provides one of the few sources of non-governmental funding available to Native communities
2007 Annual Report
Read brief highlights of Seva's Native American Program accomplishments over the past year

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