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CU-Boulder program teaching Native Americans sustainability on the reservations
Native American instructor: reservations are 'economically disadvantaged' areas
07/16/2013 09:17:55 PM MDT
Matthew Janis, of Ft. Peck Indian Reservation, looks at his hands after mixing a clay and hay combination while learning how to build sustainable housing on Tuesday, July 16, during a Tribal Sustainable Research Experience in the Engineering building on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder.
***Correction: This story originally misquoted Anna Segur's comment on modular homes; Segur said they "leak energy."
The University of Colorado's Sustainable Housing Project is hosting a sustainable outreach program for Native American tribal members this week, teaching students sustainable building techniques that can be used for generations on the reservations.
The program, funded by the National Science Foundation, welcomed 12 students and three mentors to Boulder Friday from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana and the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. After the week in Boulder, the participants will travel back to the reservations and begin a three weeks of field-based instruction.
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The program is run by the Sustainable Housing Project and Dr. John Zhai, a CU professor of civil engineering.
Anna Segur, program manager for the Sustainable Housing Project, said it's not uncommon to find a two-bedroom home on the reservation that houses up to 15 people. She said that the homes provided by the housing authorities are modular homes, which do not bode well for cold climates like Montana.
"They're really expensive to heat and they leak energy," said Segur. "It's a burden on a low-income family to pay $300, $400, $500 a month when their energy bill is triple the heating in the winter time."
Mike Turcotte, a mentor of the program and a Native American Studies instructor at Fort Peck Community College, said the housing situation in Fort Peck is destitute and implementation of sustainable housing is vital in Fort Peck, where unemployment can range from 50-80 percent throughout the year.
"There is always a shortage. We're living on a reservation, so we live in an economically disadvantaged area with high unemployment," said Turcotte. "In terms of the types of housing that they're building, we can bring some of those structures to our place and help people who don't have money and can't afford housing.
"It's a chronic situation, affordable housing is a huge issue."
On Tuesday, the group participated in a hands-on exercise in straw bale construction --mixing straw and clay to form a base plaster. An important component of the program is to use materials that are available on the reservations and be cognizant of the cultural needs of those living on the reservations, said Tom Bowen, director of the Sustainable Tribal Housing Project.
"We don't want to come in and say, 'Let's build a house that's typical in Boulder, Colorado, on a reservation in South Dakota or Montana,'" said Bowen. "That doesn't serve their best interest. They're not going to equate their life with how we live here. We want to respond to their interests."
Three students from the CU Engineering Program will also be involved in the program.
Seth Shields, a college sophomore living on the Fort Peak Reservation, echoed the dire need of sustainable housing on the reservations.
"In essence, we're leaving abandoned homes in the middle of streets that have all of these problems, and we don't have the financial stability to fix them," said Shields, 22, who previously worked as a weatherization technician.