Outreach Education for Permaculture as Native Science

Final Report for ENC97-022

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $47,960.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $63,000.00
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Ann Krush
Center for Permaculture as a Native Science
Expand All

Project Information


The Center for Permaculture as Native Science guides an on-going program of Earth-related activities on the Rosebud Lakota Reservation in south central South Dakota. In the 1997-99 period, SARE_PDP supported learning and outreach practice by Program Assistants in a project titled “Outreach Education for Permaculture as Native Science.” Most education is hands-on and on-site in the neighborhood of each Program Assistant. Topics/actions lead to sustainability and care of the environment; they include food gardening; shelterbelt planting for protection, conservation and gathering; nutrition and health education for prevention of diabetes; family honeybees; renewable energy; and Lakota Youth activities.

During the two SARE-supported years, special advances were made in self-confidence and leadership skills of the Program Assistants; in quantity and quality of food gardens to the point of establishing and supplying community WIC Farmers Markets; in interest and actual tree planting; in renewed pride in gathering and drying; in establishment of honeybee hives; and in renewable energy education, small applications and preparation for home-site installations. Youth involvement increased manifold and Elders became more willing to participate and share their knowledge.

Project Objectives:

1) that participants put workshop education into practice, ie, more families begin/continue food gardening within a community permaculture design

2) that program outreach personnel and others begin community projects of planting and care

3) that program outreach personnel gain self-confidence and develop relationships with similar personnel such as Extension, NRCS

4) that nearby Extensionists join the efforts of the Outreach programs

5) that Permaculture as Native Science be brought to the school kids

Education & Outreach Initiatives



These two years’ activities and progress are not an isolated “project” but the fourth and fifth season of a program on the Rosebud Lakota Reservation in which self-identified leaders learn about food gardening, prevention of diabetes, tree planting, (etc). Our approach is to learn by doing, initiated by the encouragement of the program. We encourage neighbors in our own communities (HUD housing clusters). Both during workshops and through implementation, our nascent leaders (Program Assistants) regain the self-confidence lost through generations of oppression and disparagement by government, church and white settlers.

This new strength is enabling us to advocate for Lakota Ways with government personnel (Nebraska, South Dakota and Federal) who show interest in us, in our culture and in our practices which are appropriate for sustainability.

Our principal barrier is lack of self-confidence, within a contest of alcoholism. Most information and knowledge is stored in the communities, within the past learning and experiences of community members. Therefore, a logical choice of method is to “give permission,” to encourage, and then not only “learn by doing” but demonstrate by doing what we already know.

Our education does not have to include the teaching of a “sustainable perspective,” Unlike many SARE programs in which participants have been practicing methods that are neither sustainable nor environmentally sound, the very basics of the Lakota Way are allowed ourselves to be acculturated to the idea of taming and exploiting Nature – rather we believe and live by a philosophy of mutual care between ourselves and all our Relatives. This is probably one reason that we are not served well by Extension but get along so well with SARE, and a reason that we were able to start the needed encouraging and education of our PDP project at a point beyond the teaching of sustainability.

Food gardening is not traditional to the Lakota People of the Plains. Before the Invasion, the People hunted and dried meat and gathered fruit and made pounded dried patties. They took these stores to their settled neighbors along the Missouri and there traded for corn and squash which they dried, and returned to the Plains with it for the winter.

During the Second World War, when Lakota men were fighting in the military for the United States, the white ranchers were exempt as full-time farmers. During these years the Lakota women were allowed to use garden plots near the ranch houses as pay for their help around the ranch. Thus, the oldest women still remember some gardening skills and now, as permission and pride are renewed, the gardens being promoted are of the simplest type, with preferred food, easy to grow and accustomed in the diet, e.g. corn and winter squash to be dried, as well as radishes, tomatoes, turnips.

An incentive for the re-establishment of shelterbelts and thickets that have been destroyed by the ranchers’ cattle is for protection of the houses and the four-leggeds, and for familiar fruits and nuts to once more be gathered and dried, and to make improvements in the poor diet of government commodities.

The “techniques” are described above by respecting what the People know, giving them permission and encouragement (and guidance when needed), they gain in self-confidence. They “do the doing,” learn by that doing, and in the process demonstrated and encourage neighbors.

Material development has been very little because, as in any group of people interested in the same things, almost all information is present. Few outside “materials” are needed. We do collect truly “good” or “appropriate” videos (such as life inside a bee hive) and make specific hand-outs or simple pamphlets when there is a felt need for reference material to take home. When learning is done “hands-on,” little “material development” is necessary.

The reasons for the above are that the People know. What is lacking is the health, spirit and self-confidence to act.

Participatory and experiential learning is our method/approach, as described above. Respect for people’s knowledge is a key.

This program’s approach of learning by doing, reflecting, and by showing others, true participatory experiential learning, has been used by families throughout human history and is fully appropriate in the reservation setting. It is not “innovative” although perhaps using it, depending on it, is once again “new.”

Outreach and Publications

Outreach: Our program of “Outreach Education” is based on learning by doing; leaders emerge, self-identified. Thus “outreach” to the community and to participants is not separate from education to the leaders; it all happen at once.

Materials: We make up “handouts” of one page in response to questions of the leaders. These handouts are usually paste-ups of paragraphs and drawings, from several literature sources, with a few summary lines related specifically to the site/people asking the question. These handouts, with their contents being put to immediate use, are our strongest form of transfer of non-Lakota information; they are kep for reference by the participants.

For some needs, we make up “folders” of several pages, e.g. “Why Would I want to Keep a Hive of Honey Bees Near my House,” etc, “Trees and Bushes for Lakota Rosebud Communities” etc. Each of these is three or four sheets of 8 ½ x 11 paper, photocopied and folded/stapled to make a 4 x 5 booklet. These materials are less than professional, but contain information appropriate to us. They are not suitable for publication. Samples are included in the Appendix of this report.

Photo-Posters: In the Permaculture classroom we have a large ten- “page” axle display fixture. During the two years that SARE has supported our program, we have continuously provided each Program Assistant with single-use cameras. Their photos are then shared with participants, copies made into large posters for the classroom display. Almost everyone who enters the classroom “pages” through the axle of posters, finding acquaintances, commenting “I didn’t know you did that, “i.e. “I didn’t know we could do that.” These posters, some specifically for the Rosebud Fair or the WIC Market – most “reports” from the communities, are proving to be one of our strongest promotion tools. (see 6-B, Evaluation by Politicians and Administrators). Copies of the photo-posters of the SARE-funded period are included in the Appendix of this report.

Outcomes and impacts:

In the communities of the Program Assistants, food gardens increased many fold, kids planting trees as shelterbelts rose to the hundreds, with many residents of new homesites joining in. In five communities, participants established WIC Farmers Markets, their gardens and thickets supplying the produce. Family honey bees are definitely established in five communities, the beginning apiaries in two are protected by solar-charged electric fences. A honey coop is in the planning stages, the first sales to be at the new WIC markets. One “renewable energy education trailer” is active in parades, at schools and in operation in its neighborhood. Three more are in the making by participants in three communities.

All activities listed above center in the communities of the participants. The majority of participants are new during this two-year time period. The gardening/WIC Farmers Market and the renewable energy potential are proving very active builders of community solidarity.

New confidence, which is overcoming the degradation of 150 years of church and government oppression, shows clearly in five of the Program Assistants and in turn their neighbors who are no longer embarrassed to garden, gather, dry, etc – in fact are doing so proudly and involving their kids and grandkids.

However, the new self-confidence of the reservation Program Assistants has drawn mixed results regarding relationships with the personnel of government programs in the form of defensiveness and confrontation from the local South Dakota Extensionists, regional WIC, County Electric coops, and the SD 1862. Some openness is being shown by the adjoining Nebraska county and hesitant but helpful response by Federal NRCS. These difficulties are historical and cultural; awareness and openings, long overdue, are being made.

By summer of 1998, contact with nearby Extensionists was made by the more confident Program Assistants, but the intent of Extension to acculturate is in direct opposition to encouraging, and re-teaching and applying traditional ways. The Extensionists turned the young Indian participants away from the county Fair, not wanting them to have opportunity to represent the county at the State Fair. They said that there was no place for Indian kids and their gathered and dried produce. This confrontation of Year One was followed in Year Two by total and mutual ignoring, but has brought awareness of this reality to the 1862 hierarchy.

To develop an active and positive relationship in which the government Extensionists and the reservation Outreach people join and share will require continued effort. We see the confrontations as openings and believe the new self-confidence of the program Assistants will lead to improved and respectful relations and cooperation. Since September, the positions of Reservation Extensionist and county Extensionist have opened; by what process they are filled will reflect the status of the 1862-Reservation relationship.

Major results for this objective are principally second-hand, which may be the way it will happen – native science filtering in, being accepted and re-taught. The Spring of 1998 Service Learning projects in the Todd County and White River schools included the Lakota perspective, through the kids themselves bringing their burgeoning pride of community improvement into the classroom. One person to whom we give encouragement and direction (Leland Little Dog) found opportunities as a “guest” in the Todd County school, and in the Spring of 1999 a “Lakota Land Curriculum” began to be implemented. Our participants are creating a context permitting this to happen.

We here on the Rosebud in south-central South Dakota have begun building a relationship with the Cherry County Extension Office in Valentine, Nebraska. Cherry County is in the same watershed as we; our Electric Coop is Cherry/Todd, our KeyaPaha joins their Niobrara on their way to the Missouri. We look forward to activities together, impacting as improved inter-cultural respect. Surprisingly, this may happen through our renewable energy program.

Our planting of windbreaks is providing incentive to the Todd county ranchers to renew their windbreaks and Year Two’s tree-planters included several white ranchers.

We are only the second reservation to become part of the WIC-FMNP program and already our Program Assistants have attended two national conferences through which they are learning as well as contributing. (WIC-FMNP = Women, Infants and Children-Farmers Market Nutrition Program).

The Center for Permaculture works closely with the 1994 Sinte Gleska. There is much historical baggage to clear before mutual respect is built between the South Dakota 1862 and the reservation 1994.

Relationships with the South Dakota 1862 is mentioned in 4-C, Objective 3, above. The 1862s are now, through an Exectutive Order, expected to relate to the 1994 Tribal Colleges and their constituents. The troublesome historical baggage includes that here in South Dakota it was only after the land was taken from the Lakota and granted to homesteaders and for the establishment of the 1862 Agriculture Station (Brookings) that peace treaties were signed, and the Lakota People confined to the reservations. The first task of the Extensionists from the new Agriculture Station was to “teach” the Lakota to farm, this as justification that the Indians didn’t need all that land, that they weren’t “using” it, that it was ok to allow each Indian family 160 acres and give the rest to the homesteaders. Easy to imagine, these Extension “boss farmers” were not accepted by the Lakota People; the mutual animosity and prejudice continues to today. (Some dates for reference: 1862 Homestead Act and establishment of the Land Grant System; 1876 Custer/Crazy Horse/Big Horn; 1886 Ft Laramie Treaty; 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.)

That sustainable practices are being activated on the reservation is raising the awareness of the South Dakota 1862 to Lakota cultural knowledge of the land, and that this knowledge is worthy of their respect. With greater self-confidence the Program Assistants may be willing to overlook some of the historical baggage and partnerships may begin. For certain, the Permaculture program is a start.

Our searching for funding for the on-going activities described in this report has brought the realities of the reservation into the awareness of many who serve on Boards. Our establishing a (WIC coupon) Farmers Market in five communities, and our having actually begun applying sun and wind power, has brought us considerable attention and beginning relationships with groups new to us.

Our reservation is “checkerboarded,” the outside boarder diminished to one county (Todd) and within that border are many operating ranches begun as homesteads. These ranchers don’t much like us or respect us. As we develop our own Outreach professionals, and as these ranchers see us begin practices of sustainable, environmentally=beneficial food production and self-sufficiency, some are coming to us for information and assurance of the credibility of these practices. Improved relationships between Tribal members and white ranchers are being fostered.

Our intended audience is Lakota people of all ages, living on the Rosebud Reservation. We started with those living in HUD housing clusters and are delighted that residents of new homesites are joining in. The participation of Youth, Adults and Elders indicates everyone’s pleasure in building self-confidence and re-acceptance of cultural traditions through food gardening, re-establishment of thickets, gathering, and re-connecting with our Mother Earth and all our Relatives.

Actual lasting responses can only be known over the long-term. Alcoholism means that some apparently committed participants disappear. At the same time, other participants may not need to continue “with the program” once they get started.

It is clear, however, that the several foci of our activities are “catching on” and becoming common-place ---food gardening, tree planting, beekeeping, Youth with a purpose. Even sun and wind power are becoming established in many reservation communities.

Note: we do not agree with or use the concept of “training” as used in the “Report Guidelines.” Our on-going education in the communities is experiential is demonstrated and encouraged by the Program Assistants. Program Assistants, in their turn, participate in the more formal “events.”

By Year Two of this SARE-funded period, these more formal educational events have become established and seasonal, held at the Permaculture classroom on the Sinte Gleska campus. Although held in a classroom, they are non-formal in format, all participants learning and teaching.

Number of individuals participating: average 12
Number of formal educators/organizations represented: average 4
Number of farmers teaching: all attending teach while learning, average 8

Dates (Season) and Titles (Topics)

Fall, 1997: Our series of Fall planning meetings included considerable discussion and sharing of philosophies and experiences about non-formal education, cognized traditional knowledge, and community organization.

Fall, 1998: planning meeting emphasized the creation, establishment and operation of WIC Farmers Markets

Spring, 1998: Three Program Assistants attend the 7th Generation/Mott Foundation “Native Sustainable Communities Leadership Summit.”

1998: Two Program Assistants attended the workshops and video sessions of the GU Beekeeping course

1998: Two Program Assistants and the coordinator were registered students in the SGU Renewable Energy course. The course included several weekend trips and workshops which additional Program Assistants attended.

1999: SGU Beekeeping course attended by twelve

1999: Coordinator attended two-week NAREEP renewable energy course at DQ (NAREEP = Native American Renewable Energy Education Program; DQ = tribal college in Sacramento, California)

Late Summer/ Early Fall, 1998: All Program Assistants (and 7 people from the “public”) attended a series of educational events about windbreaks, snow drifts, local trees/shrubs, to prepare to place community orders to the nursery in Spetember, plant in March.

1999: Similar, with thirty people

September, 1998: Three Program Assistants and the coordinator attended the annual American Community Gardening conference in Seattle and participated in sessions including teaching gardening, involving kids, etc, and toured inner-city and housing project gardens in Seattle and Tacoma (These neighborhoods have much in common with the reservation housing clusters.)

1999: Similar, in Philadelphia (past the period of the SARE support)

The emphasis in Fall 1999 is ideas and preparation for the promotion of using fresh produce, as WIC recipients’ not using their coupons was a problem with our first year WIC Farmers Market (beyond the period of SARE support – our SARE-PDP funding was not renewed, but we’re continuing with good force)

Project Outcomes


Future Recommendations

Homebusiness as a factor in a sustainable life style:

During the coming winter months we will again plan and learn to further expand our program past self-sufficiency and sharing, and into the marketplace, that is, providing gardened and gathered produce for the WIC-Farmers Market Nutrition Program. General economics will need to be addressed; the reservation has no experience with a cash economy, traditionally giving/sharing and, more recently, only the receiving of government assistance. Coming off our first WIC-FMNP year, this winter will be guided by our 1999 experience. We will also respond to the request for guidance in forming a small cooperative (honey) which hopefully will (going back to Objective 1) strengthen community solidarity.

Renewable Energy as a Factor in Sustainability:

As we learn and achieve a more sustainable life style, we have noted that the coal-fired electricity of our Utilities harms our Mother Earth. We are emphasizing wasting less electricity, and for the electricity we need, using that from a renewable source. House weatherizing, solar fencers and windbreak planting are the lead-ins. Now we have begun education for home installers of solar panels (PVs) and wind generators, learning by building education trailers, earning home hardware by using the trailers to show others.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.