Sacred Mountain Camp
National Indian Youth Leadership Project
Many thanks to all who participated in the NIYLP Straw-bale Hogan Project
at Sacred Mountain Camp, and contributed so much to making the event
We are especially grateful for the generosity of project architects,
Alfred von Bachmayr and Janice Vascott. Without their significant contributions
of time and talent in design, planning and preliminary coordination,
this project could never have occurred.
Thanks, also, to those who sent their moral support even though they
could not be there with us. The NIYLP project presented several unique
challenges, none of which proved insurmountable, and we feel proud that
this BWB pilot project was a wonderful achievement. It was an exhausting
and exhilarating week of what often turned out to be 12 hour work days.
Despite inclement weather, the straw-bale hogan withstood several afternoon
thunderstorms including one which brought 3" of rain in an hour.
Presently, the hogan roof is closed in, the door and windows are installed,
and the majority of rough plastering work is complete, both inside and
out. Two finish plaster workshops with NIYLP Americorps volunteers are
planned in early August in coordination with completion of the ceiling
and installation of the brick on sand floor. See the pictures.
The dynamics of team "diversity" proved to be a signature
characteristic of the project, providing both challenge and opportunity,
as teenagers and adults from widely varied backgrounds came together
to fulfill common goals.
Compliments to NIYLP staff for inspiring the spirit of cooperation,
and BWB team leaders for making sure everyone had a chance to contribute.
As a pilot project, Sacred Mountain Camp provided valuable learning
experiences for us, and we received some great press coverage, including
an article on the front page of the Albuquerque Tribune.
A more detailed report about the event follows, including notes about
some of the unique challenges of the project, and "lessons learned".
Anyone interested in volunteering to work with finish plaster workshops
may contact our office or just stay tuned for more information.
We also welcome feedback or suggestions relative to the project, as
part of our project evaluation process.
Dates: July 9th -July 15th, 2000
Total # Volunteers: Approx. 75
NIYLP, National Indian Youth Leadership Project, and Americorps
American's for Native Americans
Civil Air Patrol
Builders Without Borders
BWB Project Coordination Team:
Janice Vascott, Architect
Alfred von Bachmayr, Architect
Catherine Wanek, BWB Acting Director
Derek Roff, Project Coordinator
Susan Klinker, Project Coordinator
BWB Volunteer Participants:
We are proud to have received coverage for the NIYLP project in at least
three New Mexico news papers, including the front page of the Albuquerque
Tribune (7/14/00), the Albuquerque Journal (7/14/00), and the Gallup
The NIYLP, Sacred Mountain Camp project involved the collective efforts
of several non-profit organizations. At least 75 individual volunteers
turned out, eagerly focused on learning techniques for natural building.
The program was designed as an opportunity for Indian and non-native
teenagers and adults to share in cooperative work projects, cross cultural
experiences, and educational activities. The agenda focused primarily
on sustainable earth architecture projects including the construction
of a straw-bale hogan, and an adobe amphitheater. Builders Without Borders
team members provided instruction and leadership centered on straw-bale
building, and earthen plaster techniques.
After several months, and many hours of donated design and coordination
time, the NIYLP program was carried out during the week of July 9th
through 15th. Accommodations for participants were camp-style, with
meals graciously provided by Americans for Native Americans volunteer
cooks. Educational activities included an informal group discussion
on Navajo hogan traditions, a straw-bale building slide show under the
stars, presented by Catherine Wanek, review and distribution of available
educational resources and literature, and lots of hands on building
experience. Other culturally related presentations included performances
by the Native American "Pollen Trail" Dancers, and Lakota
and Navajo Dancers, Norman and Ramona Roach. A "Beauty Way Song"
closing ceremony was also conducted by Edwin Cadman.
Although the building schedule was condensed to only 5 days, dedicated
volunteers often worked until dark, enabling the majority of the construction
to be completed. Several BWB skilled carpenters volunteered to remain
on site and finish the installation of door, window, and roof panels,
which were completed by Sunday evening. Finish plaster workshops will
be conducted in early August.
Additional projects had been proposed, but not initiated due to time
limitations and budgetary constraints. These included the construction
of a straw-bale emergency shelter and adobe ovens, which may be addressed
at future NIYLP camp sessions.
All in all, this project was a positive and rewarding one. Seeds were
planted and strong connections were made with many participants which
should flourish in the years to come. Particularly inspiring, was the
response of several young Native American women who participated. They
feel strongly that straw-bale building techniques should be used more
widely to provide comfortable, sturdy housing at an affordable cost.
To this end, they have decided to create an organization which they
will call, the Native Women's Straw Bale Building Association, and are
currently developing a business plan to provide services to families
interested in building straw bale structures of their own. The Association
plans to work both within tribal lands and off the reservation.
Diversity of Participating Organizations
Although it was exciting to engage such a diverse group, there were
times when conflicts between the distinctive styles and agendas of each
group seemed to inhibit team dynamics. There was both smooth sailing
and rough road. The polarization of values stretched between educating
about permaculture, simplicity and sustainability, to quiet reverence
for the sacred nature of the place and time, to a paramilitary approach
to civil service and "chain of command" workflow. As in any
project, it takes time to get to know each other and understand how
to best work together. As the week progressed, we became more aware
of each others' unique contributions and interests, improved communications,
and began to sense an upswing in our learning curve.
BWB community building projects in the future will also likely include
volunteer groups with diverse cultures, interests, agendas and purposes
for participating. In dealing with the diversity of needs, it is important
that our attention remain focused on "process" as much as
the end "product." By encouraging an environment of education,
communication, respect for diversity and appreciation of the land and
its resources, we hope to build a skill base for creating positive team
dynamics in the future.
Limited Time Frame
The time frame on this project shrank from the proposed 2 weeks, to
10 days, to 6 days, and finally to 5 days. The demanding nature of the
schedule put undue pressure on the quality of the "process"
and created a less than ideal environment for learning. We were fortunate
that several volunteers (namely Carl Ballenger, Graham Driscoll, Carl
Rosenberg, and Robert Ward) were willing and able to stay on site and
finish closing in the building to protect the structure from weather
damage once the camp had ended.
The basic nature of volunteer availability will probably limit time
schedules in a similar manner on most future projects. Coordinators
should have a back-up plan in place for completing any unfinished critical
work necessary for the protection of the structure. It may also be advantageous
to plan a project for multiple, phased shifts of team participation
over an extended period of 2 weeks or more.
The camp's remote mountain site increased delivery costs for materials,
made interim trips for supplies difficult, and inhibited communications
from the site (no cell or land phone service). Several volunteers experienced
frustration and difficulty locating the site. In addition, a resident
bear became interested in our activities and visited the camp almost
Again, it is likely that we will encounter similar circumstances on
future projects, especially those carried out in other countries. We
hope to build the organizations' resources of tools, equipment and supplies
which may be carried along with our members to each project site. These
may also eventually include equipment for drinking water, food preparation,
and emergency medical care.
Lessons Learned: (see also the article
in The Last Straw Journal, Fall/Resource Issue, 2000.)
Emphasize the need for good preliminary planning, including:
Establish clear design priorities- and define trade-offs between cost,
rapid time frame, and quality. Several design decisions for the hogan
were made to enhance durability of the structure, or to minimize labor
time to fit the schedule. Consequently, the finished product did not
reflect lowest cost alternatives in every aspect of the design. Having
a clear definition of priorities early in project development will hopefully
minimize "second guessing" of decisions on future projects.
Define a partnership agreement- identifying the roles, and responsibilities
of each partner, as needed to achieve agreed upon objectives. Early
planning work between partners on this project was mainly based on casual
verbal agreements. This seemed to cause confusion about who was doing
what and when. Once specific goals and objectives for the project were
defined, and partner roles and responsibilities were outlined, project
communications and progress seemed to flow more smoothly.
Discuss issues of liability- in case of injury, and establish a Waiver
of Liability. Although this was not an issue on this project, insurance
coverage should almost always be addressed when coordinating group building
Obtain materials well before work begins- use local materials wherever
possible, communicate about possible substitutions (due to cost or availability)
and coordinate deliveries so all materials can be reviewed on site before
building team arrives. Unfortunately, due to several factors, materials
and equipment for this project were not procured until the last week.
This caused unnecessary stress for all team members involved. It also
shortchanged communications about possible substitutions (we had to
take what we could get) and potentially increased costs for last minute
purchases and deliveries.
Need for Quality communications between groups, including:
Coordinate daily meetings- to enhance team communications and spirit,
identify potential problems or conflicts, and provide a setting for
general comments and feedback from participants. In hindsight, more
scheduled meetings with team leaders may have enhanced our project process
a great deal.
Keep track of the schedule- by discussing identified targets of completed
work for each day, accommodating the unexpected, and posting the overall
schedule at the site.
Involve dynamic team leaders- to motivate volunteers, help keep people
absorbed in the work, and assure that participants are having a positive
overall experience. Several NIYLP staff members were inspirational in
their ability to fully involve the youth in their work!
Need to be realistic about what can be achieved in a limited time frame-
and have a back up plan for completing critical work should the schedule
Make appropriate provisions for safety needs- including safety goggles,
hard hats, gloves, masks or respirators, and earplugs. Although most
of the above noted safety items were provided, we could have encouraged
their use more effectively. Also, it is important to ensure a first-aid
kit on site and access to someone nearby who is trained in first aid.
Although there were some blisters and scrapes, we were fortunate to
have no serious injuries on this project. Because of the remote location,
it was reassuring to have 2 medical doctors on site (who were participants
Keep materials simple and easy to work with. The use of metal lathe
is extremely hard on the hands, and could be eliminated wherever possible.
Burlap, plastic or wood lathe may be substituted in the future. We also
found the hexagonal roof design required skilled carpentry. Therefore,
roofing systems were not part of the educational process as much as
they could be on a simpler structure.
Be prepared for weather- including having pre-sized tarps to cover walls,
bales, tools, etc. tie downs, and bunji-cords (to prevent tarps tearing
in high winds). A large event style tent, donated for use on this project
proved invaluable for protecting materials, equipment and people from
the daily afternoon rains we experienced at the Sacred Mountain Camp.
The National Indian Youth Leadership Project focuses on working
with Native American youth to nurture indigenous values, strengthen
youth leadership, share intergenerational strength and wisdom, and to
serve as a catalyst for positive change in indigenous communities. Builders
Without Borders supports the NIYLP's efforts toward revitalization of
traditional building techniques, and empowering both native and non-native
citizens toward reclaiming the ability to build comfortable, sustainable
structures for living.