New Documentary Shows How Pine Ridge Development Project Will ‘Knock Down’ Doors Closed to Native People


A housing and community project on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota is focused on building up a people, and not just its infrastructure. A new documentary shows how the Oglala Lakota people will make their push for change a reality.

“How long are you going to let other people decide the future for your children?” Nick Tilsen, executive director of the Thunder Valley CDC, said in a short documentary about the project.

“This is non-governmental community development in a sense that it is led by the community people, not by institutions and governments,” Tilsen said.

Pine Ridge is one poorest communities in the nation with almost 50 percent of its residents living below the poverty line, and high unemployment. Its median annual income is less than $22,000, compared to the national average, $51,000.

The project, which is called the Thunder Valley CDC, is a 34 acre plant community development project designed by the Oglala Lakota people. In 2010, the community was given a grant from HUD to help develop the project and it receives some help from foundations, donors, agencies like the USDA, and individuals. It will provide single and multi-family housing; include a youth shelter, food growing operations, community and educations facilities, and retail spaces for local businesses. The project also uses innovative programs to train the local workforce in green building practices and guide families to build their own homes, according to the documentary.

Thunder Valley is a development project run by the people of Pine Ridge, who intend for it to become a national model for others struggling to elevate poverty, and build sustainable communities. “[The project’s] purpose is to knock down doors that have been closed on our people and create new pathways,” Tilsen said.

“There are solutions happening here,” Andrew Ironshell, community engagement Thunder Valley CDC, said in the documentary. “That it’s not all misery and harshness. That the beauty that people romanticize about Lakota country, that’s real, but look under that because the reason why that’s real is because of the resilient people.”

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