Sacred Mountain Camp National Indian Youth Leadership Project

July 2000

Many thanks to all who participated in the NIYLP Straw-bale Hogan Project at Sacred Mountain Camp, and contributed so much to making the event a success.

We are especially grateful for the generosity of project architects, Alfred von Bachmayr and Janice Vascott. Without their significant contributions of time and talent in design, planning and preliminary coordination, this project could never have occurred.

Thanks, also, to those who sent their moral support even though they could not be there with us. The NIYLP project presented several unique challenges, none of which proved insurmountable, and we feel proud that this BWB pilot project was a wonderful achievement. It was an exhausting and exhilarating week of what often turned out to be 12 hour work days.

Despite inclement weather, the straw-bale hogan withstood several afternoon thunderstorms including one which brought 3″ of rain in an hour.

Presently, the hogan roof is closed in, the door and windows are installed, and the majority of rough plastering work is complete, both inside and out. Two finish plaster workshops with NIYLP Americorps volunteers are planned in early August in coordination with completion of the ceiling and installation of the brick on sand floor. See the pictures.

The dynamics of team “diversity” proved to be a signature characteristic of the project, providing both challenge and opportunity, as teenagers and adults from widely varied backgrounds came together to fulfill common goals.

Compliments to NIYLP staff for inspiring the spirit of cooperation, and BWB team leaders for making sure everyone had a chance to contribute.

As a pilot project, Sacred Mountain Camp provided valuable learning experiences for us, and we received some great press coverage, including an article on the front page of the Albuquerque Tribune.

A more detailed report about the event follows, including notes about some of the unique challenges of the project, and “lessons learned”.

Anyone interested in volunteering to work with finish plaster workshops may contact our office or just stay tuned for more information.

We also welcome feedback or suggestions relative to the project, as part of our project evaluation process.

Thank you,
Susan Klinker

Project Details

Project Dates: July 9th -July 15th, 2000

Total # Volunteers: Approx. 75

Participating Organizations:
NIYLP, National Indian Youth Leadership Project, and Americorps
American’s for Native Americans
Civil Air Patrol
Builders Without Borders

BWB Project Coordination Team:
Janice Vascott, Architect
Alfred von Bachmayr, Architect
Catherine Wanek, BWB Acting Director
Derek Roff, Project Coordinator
Susan Klinker, Project Coordinator

BWB Volunteer Participants:
Graham Driscoll
Bob McKinney
Benjamin Miner
Terry Morawitz
BJ Harris
Carl Rosenberg
Robert Ward
Carl Ballenger

Press Coverage:
We are proud to have received coverage for the NIYLP project in at least three New Mexico news papers, including the front page of the Albuquerque Tribune (7/14/00), the Albuquerque Journal (7/14/00), and the Gallup Independent (7/13/00).

Project Description:
The NIYLP, Sacred Mountain Camp project involved the collective efforts of several non-profit organizations. At least 75 individual volunteers turned out, eagerly focused on learning techniques for natural building. The program was designed as an opportunity for Indian and non-native teenagers and adults to share in cooperative work projects, cross cultural experiences, and educational activities. The agenda focused primarily on sustainable earth architecture projects including the construction of a straw-bale hogan, and an adobe amphitheater. Builders Without Borders team members provided instruction and leadership centered on straw-bale building, and earthen plaster techniques.

After several months, and many hours of donated design and coordination time, the NIYLP program was carried out during the week of July 9th through 15th. Accommodations for participants were camp-style, with meals graciously provided by Americans for Native Americans volunteer cooks. Educational activities included an informal group discussion on Navajo hogan traditions, a straw-bale building slide show under the stars, presented by Catherine Wanek, review and distribution of available educational resources and literature, and lots of hands on building experience. Other culturally related presentations included performances by the Native American “Pollen Trail” Dancers, and Lakota and Navajo Dancers, Norman and Ramona Roach. A “Beauty Way Song” closing ceremony was also conducted by Edwin Cadman.

Although the building schedule was condensed to only 5 days, dedicated volunteers often worked until dark, enabling the majority of the construction to be completed. Several BWB skilled carpenters volunteered to remain on site and finish the installation of door, window, and roof panels, which were completed by Sunday evening. Finish plaster workshops will be conducted in early August.

Additional projects had been proposed, but not initiated due to time limitations and budgetary constraints. These included the construction of a straw-bale emergency shelter and adobe ovens, which may be addressed at future NIYLP camp sessions.

All in all, this project was a positive and rewarding one. Seeds were planted and strong connections were made with many participants which should flourish in the years to come. Particularly inspiring, was the response of several young Native American women who participated. They feel strongly that straw-bale building techniques should be used more widely to provide comfortable, sturdy housing at an affordable cost. To this end, they have decided to create an organization which they will call, the Native Women’s Straw Bale Building Association, and are currently developing a business plan to provide services to families interested in building straw bale structures of their own. The Association plans to work both within tribal lands and off the reservation.

Project Challenges:

Diversity of Participating Organizations
Although it was exciting to engage such a diverse group, there were times when conflicts between the distinctive styles and agendas of each group seemed to inhibit team dynamics. There was both smooth sailing and rough road. The polarization of values stretched between educating about permaculture, simplicity and sustainability, to quiet reverence for the sacred nature of the place and time, to a paramilitary approach to civil service and “chain of command” workflow. As in any project, it takes time to get to know each other and understand how to best work together. As the week progressed, we became more aware of each others’ unique contributions and interests, improved communications, and began to sense an upswing in our learning curve.

BWB community building projects in the future will also likely include volunteer groups with diverse cultures, interests, agendas and purposes for participating. In dealing with the diversity of needs, it is important that our attention remain focused on “process” as much as the end “product.” By encouraging an environment of education, communication, respect for diversity and appreciation of the land and its resources, we hope to build a skill base for creating positive team dynamics in the future.

Limited Time Frame
The time frame on this project shrank from the proposed 2 weeks, to 10 days, to 6 days, and finally to 5 days. The demanding nature of the schedule put undue pressure on the quality of the “process” and created a less than ideal environment for learning. We were fortunate that several volunteers (namely Carl Ballenger, Graham Driscoll, Carl Rosenberg, and Robert Ward) were willing and able to stay on site and finish closing in the building to protect the structure from weather damage once the camp had ended.

The basic nature of volunteer availability will probably limit time schedules in a similar manner on most future projects. Coordinators should have a back-up plan in place for completing any unfinished critical work necessary for the protection of the structure. It may also be advantageous to plan a project for multiple, phased shifts of team participation over an extended period of 2 weeks or more.

Remote Site
The camp’s remote mountain site increased delivery costs for materials, made interim trips for supplies difficult, and inhibited communications from the site (no cell or land phone service). Several volunteers experienced frustration and difficulty locating the site. In addition, a resident bear became interested in our activities and visited the camp almost daily.

Again, it is likely that we will encounter similar circumstances on future projects, especially those carried out in other countries. We hope to build the organizations’ resources of tools, equipment and supplies which may be carried along with our members to each project site. These may also eventually include equipment for drinking water, food preparation, and emergency medical care.

Lessons Learned: (see also the article in The Last Straw Journal, Fall/Resource Issue, 2000.)

Emphasize the need for good preliminary planning, including:

Establish clear design priorities- and define trade-offs between cost, rapid time frame, and quality. Several design decisions for the hogan were made to enhance durability of the structure, or to minimize labor time to fit the schedule. Consequently, the finished product did not reflect lowest cost alternatives in every aspect of the design. Having a clear definition of priorities early in project development will hopefully minimize “second guessing” of decisions on future projects.

Define a partnership agreement- identifying the roles, and responsibilities of each partner, as needed to achieve agreed upon objectives. Early planning work between partners on this project was mainly based on casual verbal agreements. This seemed to cause confusion about who was doing what and when. Once specific goals and objectives for the project were defined, and partner roles and responsibilities were outlined, project communications and progress seemed to flow more smoothly.

Discuss issues of liability- in case of injury, and establish a Waiver of Liability. Although this was not an issue on this project, insurance coverage should almost always be addressed when coordinating group building projects.

Obtain materials well before work begins- use local materials wherever possible, communicate about possible substitutions (due to cost or availability) and coordinate deliveries so all materials can be reviewed on site before building team arrives. Unfortunately, due to several factors, materials and equipment for this project were not procured until the last week. This caused unnecessary stress for all team members involved. It also shortchanged communications about possible substitutions (we had to take what we could get) and potentially increased costs for last minute purchases and deliveries.

Need for Quality communications between groups, including:

Coordinate daily meetings- to enhance team communications and spirit, identify potential problems or conflicts, and provide a setting for general comments and feedback from participants. In hindsight, more scheduled meetings with team leaders may have enhanced our project process a great deal.

Keep track of the schedule- by discussing identified targets of completed work for each day, accommodating the unexpected, and posting the overall schedule at the site.

Involve dynamic team leaders- to motivate volunteers, help keep people absorbed in the work, and assure that participants are having a positive overall experience. Several NIYLP staff members were inspirational in their ability to fully involve the youth in their work!

Need to be realistic about what can be achieved in a limited time frame- and have a back up plan for completing critical work should the schedule slip.

Make appropriate provisions for safety needs- including safety goggles, hard hats, gloves, masks or respirators, and earplugs. Although most of the above noted safety items were provided, we could have encouraged their use more effectively. Also, it is important to ensure a first-aid kit on site and access to someone nearby who is trained in first aid. Although there were some blisters and scrapes, we were fortunate to have no serious injuries on this project. Because of the remote location, it was reassuring to have 2 medical doctors on site (who were participants with ANA).

Keep materials simple and easy to work with. The use of metal lathe is extremely hard on the hands, and could be eliminated wherever possible. Burlap, plastic or wood lathe may be substituted in the future. We also found the hexagonal roof design required skilled carpentry. Therefore, roofing systems were not part of the educational process as much as they could be on a simpler structure.

Be prepared for weather- including having pre-sized tarps to cover walls, bales, tools, etc. tie downs, and bunji-cords (to prevent tarps tearing in high winds). A large event style tent, donated for use on this project proved invaluable for protecting materials, equipment and people from the daily afternoon rains we experienced at the Sacred Mountain Camp.

The National Indian Youth Leadership Project focuses on working with Native American youth to nurture indigenous values, strengthen youth leadership, share intergenerational strength and wisdom, and to serve as a catalyst for positive change in indigenous communities. Builders Without Borders supports the NIYLP’s efforts toward revitalization of traditional building techniques, and empowering both native and non-native citizens toward reclaiming the ability to build comfortable, sustainable structures for living.