Cool Davis board member Lisa A. Baker recently co-published an article in the Journal of Housing & Community Development titled “Embracing Indigenous Wisdom to Build More Resilient and Adapated Communities.” Peruse some key excerpts below then follow the link at the end to read the full article. Enjoy!

Long term housing sustainability and resilience

“As housing and community development practitioners in America, we are on the front line when it comes to providing affordable housing and shaping communities for long term sustainability and resilience. We are also tasked with helping our residents recover from extreme conditions – whether it is a deadly pandemic, the outcome of rising income inequality, or the aftermath of hurricanes, brutal wildfires, drought, and other forms of severe weather. These events also lay bare and visible to us our shared history of economic, class, and racial barriers to full participation in society and highlights the patterns of housing, financing, lending, and economic segregation that reinforce them. In many cases, these extreme conditions and social disparities stem from our historical approach to land use, as well as to the way we relate to the natural world.”

Indigenous relationship to the land

“According to several sources, including the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the United Nations (UN), and Australia’s 2021 State of the Environment Report, indigenous peoples occupy 20% of the Earth’s territory and protect 80% of the Earth’s entire remaining biodiversity. They have accomplished this amazing feat despite being only 5% of the world’s population and making up 15% of the world’s extreme poor. The UN working paper, “Indigenous Peoples and Their Relationship to Land,” puts forward the tenet that “the Aboriginal vision of property was ecological space that creates our consciousness, not an ideological construct or fungible resource…Their vision is of different realms enfolded into a sacred space…[the] notion of self does not end with their flesh, but continues with the reach of their senses into the land.”

“Despite the diversity of geography, political systems, housing, and economic enterprises, a common thread is that understanding and change start not with things, but with intention, echoing a similar ethos as that expressed by Aboriginal people in Australia. Similarly, the idea of our interconnectedness to , and not just living “on top” of, the land.”

Traditional and dominant housing forms

“As in other places, native American dwellings traditionally have been built from locally available material and designed to be climate adapted to the places where people live. This is very different from the dominant system in which we have very similar product types, with variability in technique and materials only as related to specific weather issues. … Currently, US tribes are grappling with the same types of issues as the dominant culture since tribal housing development now uses the same types of housing forms, and tribes have been chronically underfunded for development. Add to the mix that tribal lands have been held “in trust” by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, thereby making them unable to use standard lending products while, at the same time, being generally in areas that are more challenging to develop. According to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, overcrowding, substandard housing, and homelessness are common in Native American communities.

Land Back movement

“The Yocha DeHe Wintun nation was interned away from its traditional lands in 1907. In 1980, they were granted back a portion of their ancestral lands in Yolo County at the same time as new federal legislation allowed gambling on Native American tribal lands. Building on their agricultural knowledge, developing their governance, and gaining independence due to gaming revenue, they began to purchase back additional traditional lands for farming and stewardship.”

Lessons learned: Materials and housing

Lisa A. Baker
  • “Find ways to incorporate traditional climate adapted housing forms to local communities using modern methods.
  • Use passive systems to cool and heat homes and reduce the need for air conditioning, heating, and power. This includes using wind as well as orientation, but also shading and rainwater systems.
  • Adapt locally available traditional, high quality building materials to reduce travel miles, increase availability, and provide economic opportunity wherever possible.
  • Materials should be renewable or reusable, whether it is stone, wood, or a new type of natural or engineered material.
  • Prioritize the natural environment in streetscapes and employ trees for shading streetscapes and sidewalks to reduce heat island effect.
  • Work to strike balance between the built environment and the land in which it is located. Promote the return and/or protection of native plants and native animals to improve biodiversity. This can include native plant nurseries and replacing non-native landscaping with locally adapted plantings.
  • Pay attention to water – both above ground and below ground. Protect local springs and sources. Focus on a variety of storage options, both natural and manmade, for drought times. Be mindful of over compaction and its impact on underground water movement.”


Embracing Indigenous Wisdom to Build More Resilient and Adapted Communities