Developing Housing and Jobs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Some of the most intriguing and successful CCHD-funded groups are those that surmount the biggest obstacles. The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Porcupine, South Dakota, is one of them.

The group works on the remote Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a huge expanse that takes two hours to cross in a car. It’s no secret that Native Americans have been marginalized and mistreated in the history of our country. Government, church, and private efforts to improve their living conditions and prospects for the future have enjoyed mixed success. To be fair, there have been missteps on all sides, but one of the recurring stumbling blocks has been the attempt by outsiders to determine what the native people need and want.

Three young adults smile in front of a Thunder Valley CDC sign

These young adults were part of Thunder Valley CDC’s Workforce Development Through Sustainable Construction program where they learned construction skills, advanced their education, and developed individual success plans.

We were cautiously optimistic when we heard about Thunder Valley CDC, a relatively new group of young people committed to building sustainable communities in the very tough economy of the reservation. Jobs are scarce. Housing is substandard. Infrastructure barely exists. The reservation is in the poorest county in the country. But the people have hope and determination. The Thunder Valley CDC organizers began by talking to their neighbors and ASKING what they needed to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. Housing and jobs were at the top of the list. They were not asking for charity but the opportunity to create systemic change and achieve self-sufficiency.

A team of people push up a frame of a wall on a cleared lot

Thunder Valley CDC staff raises a wall for the Sustainable Agriculture Education Center where youth and families will be able to learn about healthy local foods.

Two young Lakota girls in athletic gear and holding small basketballs smiling

Through Thunder Valley CDC, Lakota children participate in sports and wellness activities that are run by older Lakota youth in the Youth Leadership Development program.

Thunder Valley CDC identified land near an important crossroad on the reservation. They purchased it, and with CCHD’s help, they are implementing an ambitious master plan that includes infrastructure, home ownership, jobs, education, training, and mentorship.

Thunder Valley CDC takes CCHD’s mission to heart: the group is led by the people it serves and the people who participate have a stake in the outcome. By listening carefully and planning meticulously, Thunder Valley CDC is creating tangible, sustainable change in the community. It has become a force for justice in an area that longs for it. CCHD is honored to support the effort.

Thank you, as always, for your prayers and support of CCHD.

You are a crucial partner in our ceaseless mission to break the cycle of poverty.

Photos Courtesy of Thunder Valley CDC

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD.


Learn more about Thunder Valley CDC in the latest edition of the CCHD quarterly newsletter Helping People Help Themselves.

See other CCHD groups’ Stories of Hope on PovertyUSA.

For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food

thanksgiving-1705784_1920Every November, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are grateful for food, the ability to feed our own families, and the need to ensure our entire human family has enough to eat.

Our holiday table reminds us of many other important tables: tables where families comes together to share a special meal; tables where our nation’s decision makers negotiate trade, aid, and public policies that affect us all; and, the most sacred of tables—the altar where the church gathers to be nourished by communion. Let us enter this month remembering that each table calls us to act with faith and hope.

November is the anniversary month of the pastoral letter “For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers,” first issued in 2003. The letter seeks to highlight the issues of food and agriculture and their connection to our faith.  The letter states, “We focus on how food and fiber are produced, how land is protected and how agriculture is structured, compensated, and regulated to serve the ‘common good.’”

The purpose of the bishop’s letter was to address the concern that food and agriculture are “little seen and less understood” by a post-industrial society living increasingly technological lives. It is true we are further removed from food and agriculture than ever before. Yet what we eat, who grows and harvests that food, and the state of the earth that produces these goods are the very things we need to consider as Christian disciples. It’s a valuable consideration this harvest month, and every month. More than a decade since it was first published, the bishop’s pastoral letter still serves as a poignant reminder that food and agriculture must be viewed from a deeply faith perspective.

November is also Native America Heritage month. Native Americans were once the most agriculturally prosperous group of people in the United States. Yet a snapshot of hunger and poverty today on reservations is nothing short of a banquet of scarcity.  Sixty percent of the counties with majority Native Americans face dangerously high food insecurity rates, according to Feeding America.  These statistics are a sobering reminder that many marginalized brothers and sisters are missing from our tables of plenty.

A broader overview of the state of hunger in our country reveals that 48 million Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table, and that 1 in 5 kids live at risk of hunger.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving won’t be a feast for everyone.

The bishop’s pastoral letter addresses the complexities of our food system but it is also a profoundly hopeful document. “We know these are not easy times, but as believers we have hope for the days ahead: We have the capacity to overcome hunger in our nation and around the world,” the letter said.

Through Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters campaigns, churches across the country advocate to end hunger by putting food and agriculture into focus. These annual policy advocacy campaigns remind us that God intended for all to be fed.

This Thanksgiving, let us remember that ending hunger in our lifetime will only be a reality if we act with faith and hope at all the sacred tables in our lives.

Krisanne VaillancourtKrisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the Senior Associate for National Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World.


Going Deeper!

Read about how parishes in the Archdiocese of New York are together advocating to end child hunger. You can hear more about this creative effort by participating in our live event on Dec. 20 at 2 p.m., which will feature this and other stories of acting together as communities of salt and light.

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.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, inspire and walk with us.

Today is the feast day of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656 – April 17, 1680), who was canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. To celebrate this feast day, Sr. Kateri Mitchell reflects on the witness of Saint Kateri, who continues to inspire people around the world to respond to Christ’s call to conversion.

2015 Conference Book

Sr. Kateri Mitchell

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is a true witness and model of one who followed in Jesus’ footsteps during her life on Mother Earth.  St. Kateri’s prayerful life exemplifies her close relationship with her Creator God.

This young Mohawk–Algonquin girl, named Sunshine by her father, was orphaned at the age of four after losing both parents and her younger brother to the smallpox epidemic that swept through the Mohawk village which today is called the Mohawk Valley, along the Mohawk River, in central New York State.

Tradition in native villages is that an orphaned child is adopted by members of the extended family.  Sunshine would now live with an aunt and uncle.  However, while this little girl survived small pox, her eyes were greatly affected, which caused her to have difficulty walking outdoors.  Because of this impairment, she was given the Mohawk name, Tekakwitha, which means “placing or putting things in order.”

Even as a very young girl, she was quite different from the others her age—some of it due to the exterior scars on her face from the smallpox, but interiorly, she seemed to have  different values from those girls her age and older.  Already deep within her being, she seemed to be searching for more. Tekakwitha was definitely not a follower just to “fit in” with the other members in the village.  She faithfully performed her household duties and all other chores that were expected of her by her aunt and uncle’s request.  She seemed to appreciate any free time to be alone, to walk outdoors and enjoy nature.  There was an inner call to something more.

In her daily journey, she was ridiculed and physically threatened, but never retaliated in any way.  Though she did not have the knowledge to express it in words, Tekakwitha was living a Christian way of life.  She was actually already carrying the cross and following in Christ’s footsteps—which she would understand only later on.

With poor vision, Tekakwitha had an inner vision beyond what human eyes could see.  She had an interior beauty that seemed to be expressed by the way she lived in her village.  She was quiet, serene, hard-working, kind, thoughtful, and as we would say today, “contemplative.”  She was living an interior life that set her apart from others, exemplifying her strength, courage and determination.  With these qualities, her spirituality was being woven. It included deep encounters with her Creator through her prayer life, respect for her people despite disrespect toward her, and a commitment to work hard.

Later in her teen years, the Blackrobes [Jesuit priests] came to the Mohawk village and Tekakwitha was the only one drawn to them. She wanted to know more about who they were and why they were in the village even though they were not welcomed.   It was at this time that she began to find out more about God.  The presence of the Blackrobes seemed to be for Tekakwitha what she had been searching for in her life of solitude.  When she had the opportunity to meet with the Jesuit missionaries, they found her to be a person of prayer with a desire to know God on a deeper level.  At age twenty, she asked for baptism.  It was at that time that a Jesuit baptized her and gave her the name Catherine (Kateri [gah deh lee] in Mohawk).  From that time to the present, she was known as Kateri Tekakwitha.  Each new name given to this young woman led her on a spiritual journey to encounter the Christ who suffered and was ridiculed and rejected by his own people.  The new Christian, Kateri Tekakwitha learned that to follow Christ is to carry the cross and remain focused on Christ Jesus for strength, faith, trust and hope for her people.

The Universal Church raised this young 24 year old of the mid-seventeenth century to the altars of the Church in October 2012.  She is teaching us today, as a true native elder, that we, too, can follow an inner call leading us to the unknown. With faith, trust and love, Christ Jesus will lead us to fulfill dreams and achieve goals that will make us more human and Christ-like, like himself.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, inspire and walk with us.


Sr. Kateri Mitchell, SSA, Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan, is the executive director of the Kateri Tekakwitha Conference.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops works to address the pastoral concerns of Native Americans in the United States, and to affirm their gifts and contributions, through its Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. Learn more here.