Thunder Valley CDC’s programming strives to bridge traditional CDC services with the Lakota culture. It offers a wide range of services including: Lakota language-immersion, childcare, educational programming on physical health and activity, a connection to Lakota culture, and business and social enterprise support for companies like Owíŋža Quilters Cooperative, run by Lakota women and rooted in the Lakota quilting tradition. As Tilsen explained, “Lakota culture is at the root of what we do, and artists have the ability to infuse this into the built environment.”
The organization takes a holistic approach towards its built environment, which it calls “regenerative community development.” Its impact can be witnessed firsthand at Thunder Valley CDC’s community center, located on 34 acres in the center of the reservation; intended to model the progress that is possible for everyone on the reservation. There the organization has built eco-friendly, sustainable housing and a demonstration farm and a geothermal greenhouse to build food sovereignty.
Thunder Valley CDC believes that the solutions to the challenges on the reservation exist within the reservation. It is this deep commitment to community collaboration that has inspired them to spend hundreds of hours listening to the needs of their members and challenging them to create their own vision for the future.
Just as Thunder Valley CDC takes a holistic and cultural approach to programming, success is measured holistically as well. Jennifer Irving, Thunder Valley CDC’s deputy director, explained that among Thunder Valley’s accomplishments, helping community members realize their own visions for the future is perhaps the greatest. Many people in the Lakota community and in other indigenous communities across the country have never been asked about their vision for the future and their community. Irving recalled a workforce development participant sharing that “beyond a GED, the workforce development program would change the rest of [his] life” and a member of the Owíŋža Quilters Cooperative referencing the Social Enterprise program as an “answer to her dreams.”
Since its inception, Thunder Valley CDC has built seven single-family homes and is building 14 more in addition to a 12-unit apartment complex. The organization has also helped more than 20 students learn to speak Lakota, provided home ownership education to more than 40 families, and, in 2015, provided 50 percent of the produce to the Lakota Immersion Childcare program from its community garden.