Our mission is to connect people and resources to create sustainable housing and grow food on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

About Us

Our vision is to eliminate reservation poverty with enterprising, innovative and empowering asset based initiatives.

Earth Tipi evolved between 2010 and 2011 as the result of a family project initiated by Shannon Freed to build a house made from natural and locally sourced materials for her Tankashi (Father In Law) Gerald Weasel. The project involved a collaboration with Conrad Rogmans of House Alive!, a company based in Jacksonville, Oregon. The initial project was simply to construct a cobb house using labor from a summer apprenticeship, invite any enrolled members interested in participating to join free of charge and then share the project with the community through a radio interview and a house unveiling, tour and dinner.

The project expanded from a simple house building project for the family into a community project when Shannon, at the suggestion of a friend, entered a contest to win a community fruit tree orchard. At that time the project was called Sustainable Homestead Designs (SHD). As a condition of entry into the contest, SHD was required to provide proof that the land where the orchard would be hosted was community based. At the time, there was no specific land designated for the community, only the residential lease acquired by Gerald Weasel for the home site.


Goals and Objectives

Earth Tipi’s primary goal is to develop a multitude of concrete, productive initiatives that will provide the resources for training to develop skills needed for:  employable work in community business enterprises (gardens/greenhouses, orchards, housing construction, etc.) as well as training in family food gardening/farming and family micro-business enterprises.

Food sovereignty is seen as the vehicle to achieving the long-range desired goal of economic sustainability for the reservation community.   The result will be to ultimately create for-profit community business enterprises (possibly structured as part of a co-op business model) as well as individual family micro-business enterprises that will generate self-sustaining revenues and employment.   A certain portion of profits from the community enterprises could then be directed to help fund the non-revenue generating housing construction and youth leadership initiatives.

Oglala Lakota people, living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, are living in over crowded conditions with poor nutrition and low access to healthy food. Pine Ridge has been declared a food desert by the United States Department of Agriculture. A food desert is defined as “…parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” (http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts)

Shannon Freed, founder of Earth Tipi


Until at least 1868 and likely until the late 1880’s the people of the Great Sioux Nation, including the band referred to as Oglala Lakota, were self-sustaining.  North American Bison was the primary food source and source of shelter as well as a long list of other tools and materials used in every day life. Almost every single part of the bison was used. Nothing was wasted. A short list of uses includes hides used for home making, tapestries, blankets and more. Bladders were used as water jugs, bones were boiled down for the marrow. Every bit of meat was eaten including the eyes, organs and intestines. (retrieved on December 6, 2015 from http://itbcbuffalo.com)

Until land and natural resources were taken by force, the Lakota people were wealthy.  In a study conducted by Richard Steckel of Ohio State University, in the late 1800’s plains people were discovered to be the tallest in the world. Their height suggests they were well nourished and thus successful hunters and gatherers.  The lifestyle and wealth of the Lakota people was entirely dependent on the mass herds of bison that roamed the American continent. It was an effective strategy of war then, that the invaders systematically annihilated the bison to the brink of extinction (http://www.fws.gov/bisonrange/timeline.htm). Methods of annihilation varied but included soldiers open firing with cannons on herds that passed by forts and stampeding them over cliffs. A fort commander is quoted as saying “Only when the Indian becomes absolutely dependent on us for his every need…will we be willing to handle him. He’s too independent with the buffalo. But if we kill the buffalo, we conquer the Indian.” (Saving the Buffalo, pg. 93)

By removing the bison as a resource to the Lakota, their primary source of food and housing was removed. The removal of this valuable resource placed many families in a position to be dependent on the U.S. Government for food rations and housing needs. However, the food and shelter being provided is substandard at best  (http://www.nrcprograms.org/site/PageServer?pagename=airc_res_sd_pineridge).

The majority of the housing on Pine Ridge is now either low income tribal housing and used and degrading trailer houses, and is often provided by government or NGO services, the complete opposite of the once sustainable lifestyle provided to the Lakota and other plains tribes by the bison.

The Lakota still have many valuable resources such as a large land base which gives them the opportunity to grow food. Building materials such as wheat, clay, sand as well as waste materials such as demolished cement and shipping pallets are also available in large quantities.

Earth Tipi’s mission is “connecting resources and people to build sustainable housing and grow food on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation”. Earth Tipi accomplishes its mission through three programs. Their programs are Natural Homes, Food Sovereignty and Raven’s Tipi by using their projects to identify reliable sources of local materials as well as non local community supporters, then connect community members to these resources and support them so they can build their own homes and grow their own food.

About The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (Oglala Oyanke in Lakota, also called Pine Ridge Agency) is an Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation located in South Dakota. Pine Ridge was established in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border and consists of approx 3,468.86 sq mi (exact dimensions are under debate) of land area. It is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Most of the land comprising the reservation lies within Shannon and Jackson County, two of the poorest counties in the US. In addition, there are extensive off-reservation trust lands, mostly in adjacent Bennent County but also extending into adjacent Pine Ridge, Nebraska Sheridan County, just south of the community of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the reservation’s administrative centre and largest community. The 2000 census population of all these lands was 15,521. However, a study conducted by Colorado State University and accepted by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated the resident population to be 28,787.

Late 1800s: Creation and massacre

Pine Ridge Reservation was originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and originally encompassed approximately 60 million acres (240,000 km²) of parts of South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. In 1876, the U.S. government violated the treaty of 1868 by opening up 7.7 million acres (31,000 km²) of the Black Hills to homesteaders and private interests. In 1889 the government divided the remaining area of Great Sioux Reservation into seven separate reservations for varied tribes.

Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Rosebud, Sisseton, Yankton and Pine Ridge

On December 29, 1890 near Wounded Knee Creek, the United States 7th Cavalry killed more than 300 men, women and children. Chief Bigfoot and his followers were trying to get to Pine Ridge when intercepted by the cavalry.