Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a food desert, where many tribal members still do not have access to fresh produce and a nutritious diet. The Federal Commodity Foods Program serves food high in fat, sugar, and preservatives, causing Oglala Lakota people to suffer from epidemic levels of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Average life expectancy in Pine Ridge is 45 years old.
Sioux Nation is the only grocery store on the reservation and was caught selling spoiled food in 2012. Prices at Sioux Nation are gouged by a company in California, exploiting tribal members with a median income of $2,600 per year. The next closest grocery store is 120 miles away in Rapid City. With healthy food so scarce, Oglala Lakota people are in need of a revolution to reclaim food sovereignty.
Ota Au is an independent Lakota non-profit organization, with a vision of permaculture gardening, sustainable economy, renewable energy, and spiritual enlightenment. The first step of our strategy is to build a community garden on a family allotment in the foothills of Porcupine, South Dakota. We will provide fresh fruit and vegetables for at least 100 people, and the rest will be canned and used for wintertime feasts.
Ota Au needs funding to construct a rain harvesting system that will provide water for daily use and irrigation for the garden. The design is affordable by using gutters, filtering out debris, and connecting 55-gallon drums with PVC piping for storage. Well-water will be used as little as possible because the Oglala Aquifer will by dry within 30 years at the current rate of consumption. Water is life, and protecting sacred water for future generations is most important.
The property is located along the banks of Porcupine Creek, a tributary of the White River downstream from a uranium mine, bombing range, toxic waste dumps, and factory farms. Right now acquiring clean topsoil, compost, and organic fertilizer to remediate the soil is top priority for Ota Au, as there may be radioactive heavy metals and pesticides present. The soil must be purified and revitalized before ecological balance can be restored.
The garden will be built into raised beds, traditional row planting, and three sisters mounds. Traditional rows are used for maximum yield, but Ota Au must be careful not to grow produce in contaminated soil. Raised garden beds are a low-cost solution as they are grown above ground and built with untreated wood pallets, ensuring there is no contamination in the food. Three sisters mounds of corn, beans, and squash provide a balanced diet and ideal growing environment. The corn creates a structure for the beans to climb up, the beans nourish the soil with nitrogen, and the squash leaves protect the soil by acting as a living mulch.
Built to acknowledge the four directions, to the east side of the garden will be a trellis built from ash saplings and used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons. There will also be potato towers, built with wire, lined with newspaper, and simply designed to add dirt as potato stems grow. Roots form on the buried stems and produce a high yield of potatoes. To the west of the garden will be rows of sunflowers lining the sweat lodge, which is used for ceremonies to receive spiritual guidance. Sunflowers represent the plant nation’s constant prayer to the sun, followed by Lakota people in the four day sundance.
To the south will be the permaculture garden, located inside an underground greenhouse. Year-round gardening is difficult to manage in a climate that ranges from 110 to -50 degrees. Fortunately temperatures are naturally warmer and easier to regulate underground. The greenhouse will be dug into the side of a south-facing hill to maximize sunlight from summer and winter solstices. The foundation is built of stone and gravel, walls are sealed with compressed earth bricks, the roof is covered with plastic sheeting, and irrigation is provided by a drainage system connected to rain barrels. Hardy crops such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and cabbage will be grown in the underground greenhouse, providing produce for more than 20 people throughout the four seasons.
To the north side will be the rain garden, where Ota Au cultivates medicines such as sage, Echinacea, and yarrow. Herbs are used as preventative medicine in Lakota culture, treating the spiritual and scientific relationship between human beings and disease. Oglala Lakota people cannot rely on Indian Health Services, as they are under-funded, under-staffed, and have few preventative health programs. Many tribal members live without healthcare because of the travel distances required to access Indian Health Services. Located only a few miles from downtown Porcupine, Ota Au plans to build an earth home for practicing traditional medicine. With mud and straw for the building blocks, the structure will be cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
In its first year Ota Au will build a foundation, learning how to build a garden with recycled materials and working with compressed earth brick technology to construct housing. The earth houses are mold-free, preventing a major health risk on the reservation. Sixty percent of homes in Pine Ridge are infested with deadly black mold and need to be burned down. The on-reservation housing crisis is severe, and some two-bedroom homes shelter thirty or more people at a time. The long-term goal is to empower families by teaching them build earth houses complete with a permaculture garden, so they can teach their tiospaye or extended family this sustainable way of life.
Ota Au expresses deep gratitude to allies who are able to give what they can, when they can. A $20 donation will help buy heirloom seeds needed to develop a seed saving program, which already includes indigenous species of corn, beans, and squash. $50 will buy us by gardening tools such as hoes, pickaxes, and shovels necessary for construction and maintenance. $100 will cover the cost of hoses, sprinklers, and timers necessary for irrigation. $250 will supply lumber, PVC piping, plastic sheeting, and 55 gallon drums needed for the rain harvesting system, greenhouse, and raised garden beds. Please support the vision of Ota Au to bring health and wellness to the Pine Ridge reservation community.
“We need to work on coming back to reality, which is a natural way of life. This economic breakdown is reality, and it’s going to get worse. It’s going to force people to plant. It’s going to force people out of the city. It’s going to force people to live off the Earth.” – Floyd Buffalo Hand
- dakota hanke-ledwith
- Garden Tender
- Jet Texas Fluoresentric
#1 fundraising platform
More people start fundraisers on GoFundMe than on any other platform. Learn more
Expert advice, 24/7
Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more