We give the Mountain pulpit to board member Cindy Owings.
In the summer of 2003, I was driving east across Montana between the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian reservations. I stopped at a roadside Indian stand for directions and a delicious lunch of fry bread and chili. I was meeting a friend near Lame Deer who had invited me for three days of camping and volunteer work with Red Feather Development Group to help build a straw bale home with a Northern Cheyenne family.
Heading south, the rutted gravel road led through juniper and sage to a small settlement of homes under a cottonwood stand along the Tongue River. The build site was easy to find with cars parked helter-skelter around stacked straw bales and steel roofing. A legion of people wielding trowels and piles of wet mud were applying stucco to the walls.
I joined the workers. Ignoring the heat and my own dehydration, I ended up in the air-conditioned medical trailer pumping fluids down my throat. I had to find another way to volunteer, so I offered to cook for the crew. Thirteen straw bale homes, hundreds of trailer-kitchen meals, and three wind-destroyed tents later, I now sit on the Red Feather board. But more importantly, Red Feather has allowed me to work side by side with Native people, an exchange that makes a difference in both of our lives.
Indian Country has largely unrecognized housing issues. One in five homes lack indoor plumbing. Fourteen percent are without electricity. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 23.7 percent of Native families live below the poverty line. Tribal communities are taking steps to address housing needs and provide vocational training, including homeowner education programs, finance and credit counseling, and assistance with major home repairs and weatherization.
Red Feather works on two reservations, the Northern Cheyenne in Montana, and the Hopi in Arizona. Both reservations are remote, each more than two hours' drive from the nearest urban center. In the last 17 years, 2,500 volunteers have partnered with 13 tribal families and community members to build super insulated, sustainable straw bale homes. Our Solar Energy Initiative works to incorporate sun-powered hot water heaters and radiant floor heat in homes on both reservations.
We don't just build homes and walk away. Red Feather trains young adults in construction so that they can one day address the housing needs in their communities while learning skills that can lead to job opportunities.
In June, Red Feather will build its seventh home with a Northern Cheyenne family. Volunteers will camp out. We'll raise the big white dining tent and welcome community members to share a warm meal with old friends, native and non-native, who come together each summer to renew their commitment to lend a helping hand.
Please visit redfeather.org for more information. From the Spring 2012 issue. Subscribe today, get the magazine at the iTunes store, or find Mountain at Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Gander Mountain, and other natural foods and outdoor stores.