We are a grassroots organization that emerged from a youth movement and cultural revival within the Oglala Lakota nation. Just over ten years ago, just before our organization came into being,a group of young Lakotas stood by a fire; there was a lot of frustration, and much to blame for the world into which we were born. In a ceremony, a challenge was put forth by our ancestors: “How long are you going to let other people decide the future for your children? Are you not warriors? It’s time to stop talking and start doing. Don’t come from a place of fear, come from a place of hope.”
The living conditions on reservations today can be described as, by in large, resulting from to the Dawes Act, which fragmented land once held in common. With most of our land held in trust by the Federal Government, or leased to ranchers, access to land or its equity, is greatly diminished. Many indigenous people (like other disenfranchised communities) lack a vehicle to participate in an economy based on access to capital; this results in a cascading series of systemic failures. There are no homes for sale on our reservation — we need 4,000 immediately. The climate is changing, and current building practices and energy use are unsustainable; our resources, including the Missouri River, are vulnerable.
We are a sovereign people navigating a challenging web of a political and economic systems that were superimposed on our sustainable and holistic way of life. We are isolated geographically and economically. Therefore, there is no one solution that will transform the world we live in, lacking infrastructure, basic services, housing, and operational capacity for regional planning- we had to find a way to address all these considerations. As our founding Executive Director Nick Tilsen said: “We must envision solutions as big as the problems we face.” We could try to save our language, stop suicides, or create jobs, but we realized, with a holistic approach, we could develop a comprehensive strategy to change all these things and much, much, more.
In response, we launched a Sustainable Regional Planning Process (funded by the HUD Sustainable Communities), where we could initiate comprehensive regional planning for economic development, including land use, language and education, health and wellness, and transportation. From the Regional Plan, a the cluster of programs was inspired that became Thunder Valley’s Ecosystem of Opportunity. From the Regional Plan, and Thunder Valley’s Ecosystem of Opportunity together, came the dream of our 34 acre Regenerative Community Development. That dream is becoming a reality as the first phase in the development nears completion.
The Ecosystem of Opportunity is a result of at least ten thousand years of systems thinking. It rejects the reductionist conceptions of life (or problems) existing in a vacuum. We see our lives as being intrinsically dependent on, and connected to, the multiple generations before us, and after us. You could say, we have a duty to them and a responsibility for their future.