The Beginning of the End of Poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, (the first Native American Saint and patroness of ecology and the environment). Let us be thankful this day of all life that springs forth from Mother Earth and how the Creator continually provides that we may live. May we desire to imitate St Kateri’s desire to love God above all things.

I had the good fortune of attending the recent groundbreaking ceremony for Thunder Valley Development Corporation. The valley was filled with the heartbeat of a Nation as Lakota drums echoed in harmony and singers sang traditional Lakota songs and each person in attendance turned a shovel of dirt from Mother Earth to commemorate this historic event. The event was hosted at the thirty-nine acre site located north of Sharps Corner in South Dakota. The festivities initiated the birth of a regenerative, self-sustaining and self-sufficient community located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Ultimately, the site will feature single family and multifamily residences, a youth shelter, childcare facility, and commercial and industrial buildings as well as community gardens and a school that teaches the Lakota language, history, and culture.

Hundreds of people attended the event from across the Nation and the State of South Dakota, but none were more excited and hopeful than the hundreds of Oglala Lakota youth and families that came to be a part of this historic event from across the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Mission of Thunder is “to empower Lakota youth and families to improve the health, culture, and environment of all communities, through healing and the strengthening of cultural identity”.

Once completed, Thunder Valley will serve as a model community throughout Indian Country for other community development initiatives. It reflects a modern community that utilizes green technology, modern energy efficient building practices, and incorporates the Lakota culture and intrinsic values into its original scope of work.

When the houses are completed, there is already a system in place that offers families financial incentives and financing for their first home. The plan was very well thought out. It is not a government program that gives people houses rather it is a program that is designed to assist people into home ownership and help them maintain and take care of their home. You can already witness the pride that people have just talking about the Thunder Valley Community.

Thunder Valley Development Corporation is one of many organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The organizations selected for funding by CCHD are evaluated locally and nationally before the proposals are submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for final approval. The activities of the organization are being watched by many tribes and community development organizations throughout the United States. The development process and goals of the organization are exemplary and other places will want to replicate many of the facets involved in the development of Thunder Valley.

Nick Tilsen, Executive Director of Thunder Valley, said in his closing remarks; “Today is the beginning of the end of poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation.”

A twelve-minute video was developed to showcase the development of Thunder Valley.  Please check out the video.

Let us pray for the success of the model community at Thunder Valley and the work among the staff and all involved.

Deacon Marlon Leneaugh is Director of Native Ministry for the Diocese of Rapid City South Dakota and serves as the local CCHD representative. He is an enrolled tribal member of the Sicangu Lakota Tribe and has been an ordained deacon for nearly 24 years.


Going Deeper

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for July 2016 is to respect indigenous cultures and traditions. Watch the video and reflect.

Visit the webpage of the USCCB Subcommittee on Native American Affairs to find out more and access relevant resources.  Visit CCHD’s Map to find out how CCHD works to empower persons in low-income communities around the country.

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