Fort Peck Diary – Day Four

Fort Peck Diary Day Four: Reflections

We’ve just returned from an incredible journey to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation where we met with community members to talk about their vision for the new homes we will design and build on their land.

An essential part of any Make It Right project is community design meetings. We believe that before our architects can begin their work creating a home, they need to hear from the people who will live there. Their needs, their dreams, their vision for their community is essential to our design process.

To support our work on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, click here.

Previous Entries: Day One / Day Two / Day Three

Day Four


As we packed up to head home, we reflected on everything we saw:

  • The deep needs in this community, from jobs and healthy food to the reason we’re all here: housing. The existing homes are cramped, with multiple families living in two and three bedroom houses. The majority of homes were built with cheap materials that can’t withstand a family’s daily routine and pollute the indoor air quality. Many of them are now plagued with mold. Hundreds of people on the reservation are waiting for housing.
  • The self-determination of the tribes who invited us to work with them. Life can be hard on the Fort Peck Reservation, but the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes are determined to build a better future for their children. We met men and women who teach culture and language classes to help tribal members stay connected to the way of life that has sustained them for thousands of years. We met the ranchers charged with preserving one of the last wild herds of American bison, animals so important in Native American life that they are called “our brothers.” We met tribal leaders who are resolved not to let their people continue to suffer from unemployment, poor housing or insufficient educational opportunities.
  • The families who welcomed us into their community. We were overwhelmed by families and tribal members who filled the auditorium for two nights to share with us their struggles and their dreams for new homes. Without them, we could not begin our work designing and building healthy, sustainable and affordable housing.

Here are some reflections from our Fort Peck design team:

Melanie Klein, architect, Make It Right:
I was so happy to see such a great turn out of community members!  Though we advertised in the local media that we’d meet to discuss design ideas for the first 20 houses, the conversations usually went so much further than that. Each person I listened and spoke to shed light on a myriad of First Nations design considerations: 
  • the need for attainable housing (of various options–for purchase, or rent, or rent-to-own–whether low income or market rate, there’s a need for all of it)
  • how home building could bring opportunities for job training, local employment, investment and trade (encouraging Native-to-Native economies)
  • the often “crippling” utility bills, and the potential to lower those monthly bills through a lowering of each home’s  energy demand (through use of efficient systems and power from the sun, earth, river, wind…)
  • how difficult it is to get healthy fresh food, and that many people desire to garden year-round…several people are avid gardeners but the growing season is short
  • how overcrowded living conditions are for so many families
This first round of stakeholder engagement has been inspiring and exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing the community members again, hopefully meeting even more community members, and working toward the goals set before us.
Steve Glenn, CEO, Living Homes:
We couldn’t have been more welcomed by the Fort Peck community.  There is a real desire to develop housing solutions that are uniquely sensitive to the people and the environment in which they live.  there are significant challenges at Fort Peck that relate to the extreme weather, cost and schedule.  The team Make It Right has assembled is incredibly talented and they have a process that has proven to be effective in a number of cities now.   I’m confident the team will develop a community that is worthy of its residents — and, hopefully, that will serve as a model for other responsible developments.
Nathaniel corum
Nathaniel Corum, Architect, Architecture for Humanity:
Thanks to the generosity of the Ft. Peck community and Make it Right for convening a very productive and respectful set of community design meetings. We arrived with questions (not answers) and listened deeply. Challenges and opportunities that arose include:
  • how to express the tribal protocols and desires for ’round-ness’ in the home designs. 
  • how to allow for ceremonial and traditional use 
  • how to manifest traditional design aspects (east entries, central plan focus, seasonal use variation, allusions to nomadic +/or traditional life
  • how the tipi, earthlodge and/or cottonwood leaf housing origin/gift can be alluded to in the housing +/or community plan
  • how to leverage the considerable modular / prefab team capacities, specifically how to amplify the advantages of modular together with natural envelopes and materials. 
  • how to best link community asset-based materials and methods (local resources, skills) to housing process.
  • how/if to use previously responsive regional approaches and techniques including: pre-fab wet cores, earthen plasters, timber frames, frost-protected foundations, straw bale, sips and super-insulated envelopes. 
  • how to organize site information such as soil tests, water table, seasonal conditions, wind exposures, access, elder-visitability and cultural protocols to inform a variety of design approaches. 
  • how to capture and share going forward best practices for building effectively in the Northern Plains.

Sheila Rice 2010

Shelia Rice, Executive Director of NeighborWorks Montana:
NeighborWorks Montana is honored to be part of the Make It Right/Fort Peck Sustainable Village team.  The team itself is incredible!  Architects and designers from around the nation, right here in Poplar, Montana.  This work is so critical because of the overcrowding and lack of decent, affordable housing on the Fort Peck Reservation. The tribal members that we met with were so welcoming and took their time to educate the team on the native history and ways.  We heard of the importance of restoring the buffalo, the devastation of children forced to go to Indian schools, and the hope and aspirations of tribal members for their homeland.  The Sustainable Village project is being launched with a Low Income Housing Tax Credit project of 20 lease-to-rent homes, but the long range vision is many homes for families of all incomes.  NeighborWorks Montana will be part of the partnership that brings this vision to life.

To support our work on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, click here.

Previous Entries: Day One / Day Two / Day Three

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