Oglala Lakota College, Purdue University and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology have been awarded a grant from the Ford College Community Challenge to design and build a multipurpose learning center and greenhouse for the Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Reservation on the Oglala Lakota College He Sapa campus in Rapid City.
The project is tied to a program at Purdue and Mines called Engineering Projects in Community Service where undergraduate students earn course credits for participation in teams that tackle real-world problems. The Lakota EPICS team includes students and professors from all three schools.
“We have to dream big,” says Bryant High Horse, a Sicangu Lakota elder, mentor, cultural advisor and instructor with Oglala Lakota College. “I’m really happy that Purdue and SD Mines have come. Instead of a partnership, I always say we’re becoming family, or tiwahe. (relatives in Lakota).
Funding from Ford enables the construction of the initial greenhouse. Project leaders envision a future teaching center that works with existing OLC facilities and integrates STEM, culture and food sovereignty topics per the community’s requests. Greenhouses are increasing in number on Pine Ridge. This new OLC-based greenhouse will offer research and development opportunities to help community members.
“This is about so much more than a greenhouse project,” says Amanda Ruiz, an OLC and SD Mines student who is helping lead the project. “This is about building mentorship, this is about the youth, this is about passing on the wide range of traditional knowledge to the generations to come. There are so many unspoken needs, and we can build diversified community solutions around this project. This is a holistic effort that can become an example for other tribal communities.”
Students in the project will work as small engineering design teams alongside leaders who will guide the process, manage resources and budgets across three campuses.
Madison Phelps, an Oglala Lakota College student who is majoring in pre-engineering and tribal law, is among those on the project. “All of our reservations are food deserts,” says Phelps. “Food sovereignty is the greatest independence a tribe can have. Having a greenhouse that teaches about traditional foods is something our community can really use. It gives me hope.” After finishing at Oglala Lakota College, Phelps plans to transfer to SD Mines to complete a degree in civil engineering with emphasis in sustainability.
Photo: Amanda Ruiz, an OLC and SD Mines student with Bryant High Horse, a Sicangu Lakota Elder.
Information provided by the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.