Story by Charles Michael Ray
An effort to build a new sustainable and energy self-sufficient community on Pine Ridge, South Dakota is underway. The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation held a groundbreaking in June for the new housing development.
Hundreds of people including a number of federal and tribal dignitaries attended. Nick Tilsen sees the groundbreaking at the Thunder Valley CDC as a historic event that signifies a tide change on Pine Ridge. “Today is the beginning of the end of poverty on Pine Ridge,” said Tilsen.
Tilsen is the Executive Director of the Thunder Valley CDC. He spoke just before the crowd of community members lined up in front of a set of shovels to each take a turn at the official groundbreaking.
The project is different than housing efforts in the past, in part because it’s bottom up. “This project came from the people. This plan came from the people. This work was derived by the grass roots people on Pine Ridge coming together to make a change, to make a difference for our community,” said Tilsen.
Those involved in the project found ways around the barriers that restricted tribal housing and community building in the past including lack of access to funding and extensive government red tape.
“We’re taking ownership over our future by creating opportunities that are grounded in what we want for our future,” Tilsen said, ” I think over the next three to five years you’re definitely going to see a lot of building happening here, streets and water and sewer, but I think you’re also going to see this project replicated all throughout Indian Country, because this project is providing inspiration to people everywhere.”
President Barack Obama championed the work. The recent federal designation of Pine Ridge as a Promise Zone fast tracks government funding for community projects such as Thunder Valley CDC.
Federal officials announced a grant of nearly $2 million for the project. Phase one includes 21 homes, up to 100 multi-family units, a workforce development center and a sustainable agricultural education center.
The overall housing shortage on the Pine Ridge reservation is much bigger. Economic development officials estimate the cost for infrastructure and housing needs here exceed $1 billion.