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Elder Housing with Hemp

White Earth Reservation, Minnesota June 2021 - Ongoing

Drawing from our community-based collaborative projects, we have begun working with local women and Winona LaDuke’s Honor the Earth organization to develop new housing on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota.

Together, we will propose designs for new homes that celebrate the long lives of the women, enhance their current work, build places of sanctuary for themselves, their grandchildren, and future generations on their own land. Instead of being beholden to others, the nation will chart its own future through innovative local construction. The first homes will be constructed of hemp combined with local lime to create new models of sustainable, healthy homes. We will test new construction systems and propose training programs that will create new jobs. Through this process we will create models of prototypical housing for the future: healthy homes for all people.


“We were told that we would come to a point in our lives as Anishinaabe people, where we would be faced with a path with a fork in it...In the Time of the Seventh Fire, which is the time that we are in now, we are told that we would have a choice between two paths: one path they said would be well worn, but it would be scorched, and the other path would not be well-worn, and it would be green. It would be our choice upon which path to embark. I'm pretty sure that this moment in time is now, where we must take the initiative and have the courage to make that green path.” Winona LaDuke, "Material Health : Design Frontiers"

Researchers, Meryl Smith and Eric Hu, and Co-Director Alison Mears, are designing healthy affordable homes for local elders. This ongoing project is beginning with a newly constructed home for a grandmother and her four grandchildren, designed to provide security and respite for the family for generations to come. The home will be situated on forested land, purchased from the reservation, with views out to a pond beyond. This accessible and healthy home will have walls constructed of locally sourced wood framing and hemp bale insulation, with a wood rainscreen on the exterior and a plaster finish inside. The interior is designed with healthier finish materials: a kitchen made of formaldehyde free plywood, mineral paints and healthy floor finishes. The interior also provides space for the family to come together at meals and around the fireplace, a kitchen that can be used to cook meals as a family, and a playful kid’s room where the grandchildren can retreat to play or produce artwork with their grandmother. Once completed, the house will provide an example of a new form of sustainable residential construction.

Since June 2021, HML’s co-directors, Alison Mears and Jonsara Ruth, have visited White Earth, in Northern Minnesota, to speak with Winona LaDuke about hemp production, visit a local lumber mill, meet the women who are in need of housing and learn more about the specific needs of families and the community. During their visits we learned that there are multiple opportunities to invigorate local industries, from the manufacturing of industrial hemp for various uses to the production of wall hung solar panels that are made locally. In the summer and early fall we created a range of architectural designs that were reviewed by the future residents. October 2021, we returned to White Earth to meet with the new homeowner, and with her input finalize the designs for the houses and begin construction documentation. Along with the drawings for construction, we will also create a construction manual that illustrates novel construction techniques to support the local team during construction. We will specify and source healthier materials for use in construction. The construction will provide on-site training for builders to learn novel construction techniques that can be used on future projects. We are also working with Honor the Earth to create and present one of the lessons on Hemp Building for the Inaugural Tribal Hemp class in collaboration with Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute.

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