NASHI: learning that fills a need

December 16, 2013 •

According to Bob Gough, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has four major challenges but one solution -- sustainable housing. 

“We see four major crises: climate, energy, housing, and unemployment, but these four crises have one golden opportunity,” said Gough, attorney and secretary of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy covering 14 tribes including the Oglala Lakota at Pine Ridge. “If we focus on sustainable housing we could put a lot of people to work and we could create housing that is more sustainable, more economical, and a benefit for the local economy because the materials are locally sourced and the buildings are locally built.”

Gough is one of many partners in the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative, an interdisciplinary collaboration of students, faculty, and volunteers at the University of Colorado Boulder, Oglala Lakota College, and community organizations.

Rob Pyatt, senior instructor in the CU-Boulder Environmental Design Program, founded the Native American Housing Sustainable Initiative (NASHI) in 2010 to improve housing conditions on tribal lands through research, education, and outreach. 

“Specifically, this initiative establishes a sustainable, affordable, and culturally appropriate housing research, design, and demonstration home project on the Oglala Lakota College campus as the foundation for an ongoing academic service-learning program between the CU Environmental Design program and the Construction Technology program at Oglala Lakota College," Pyatt said.
The project focuses on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a 3,400-square-mile reservation in southwest South Dakota. Pine Ridge has been noted for its high rates of unemployment and has been called one of the poorest regions in the United States with nearly half the population living below the federal poverty line.
Pyatt and students spent two summers at Pine Ridge to help construct energy-efficient demonstration houses designed and conceptualized by students in the NASHI service-learning course. Each structure -- strawbale, optimized wood frame, compressed earth block, and SIPS (structural insulated panels) -- is designed to be energy efficient and appropriate for the variable climate. The teams return every two months, monitor how the prototypes are performing and have influenced current building on the reservation.
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This story was adapted from Outreach and Engagement Highlights and is available in full at