Elder Housing with Hemp

White Earth Reservation, Minnesota June 2021 - Ongoing

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

Together, we intend to build homes that celebrate the long lives of the women, enhance their current work, and make places of sanctuary on their own land for generations to come. Beholden to no one, the nation will chart its own future through innovation: hemp and local lime, new construction systems and methods, training programs, and job creation with local labor. Through this process we will create models of 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, Eric Hu, Angela Zeit, and Co-Director Alison Mears are designing healthy homes for local women on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota. This ongoing project is beginning with a newly constructed home for an Elder and her six grandchildren, designed to provide security and respite for the family for generations to come. Once completed, the house will provide an example of a new form of sustainable residential construction.


HML created a range of preliminary architectural designs to be reviewed by future residents, and with input from the family, we were able to realize a final design for their home. The home will be situated on forested land purchased from the reservation, with views out to a pond. It will have walls constructed of locally sourced lumber, hemp bale insulation, and a wooden rainscreen on the exterior. The interior too is designed with healthier finish materials: walls in lime plaster and mineral paints, millwork and cabinetry made of plywood with no added formaldehyde, and healthy floor finishes. The design provides space for the family to cook meals together, gather around the fireplace, as well as space for the children to play both inside and outside and make artwork with their grandmother. 


In June of 2021, HML’s co-directors Alison Mears and Jonsara Ruth visited White Earth in Northern Minnesota. They spoke with Winona LaDuke about hemp production, visited a local lumber mill, met the women who are in need of housing, and learned more about the specific needs of families and the general needs of the community. From their visits we learned of the 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.

Along with design drawings for the home, HML will create a manual that illustrates techniques to support the local team during construction. The construction of this prototypical home will provide on-site training for builders to learn novel 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.

↑  Glossary