Bennie Francisco


Currently, efforts to build sustainable housing focus singularly on “green” design and technologies to alleviate emissions and overuse of energy, water and other natural resources. While this marks an important shift in design thinking and planning, achieving true sustainability requires a more holistic approach. Truly sustainable developments must encompass cultural, ecological and economic concerns of a given community. This is especially important in Native American communities.


In Native American communities the federal government has historically been, and continues to be, the primary funder of housing developments. Housing units built in Native communities by the federal government were typically modeled after Euro-Anglo (suburban) communities. Federally funded programs created single-family ranch homes in communities where communal, inter-generational housing had predominated. The cultural changes these non-indigenous designs brought, in effect, were a form of further colonization, which added to the destruction of indigenous cultural patterns. For example, in Zuni Pueblo, maternal grandmothers historically lived with their daughters and cared for the children in the daytime, teaching children cooking, language and art skills. The housing units built in the 1970s did not accommodate grandmothers, and as a result, indigenous language acquisition rapidly deteriorated, cooking traditional foods went by the wayside, and children were soon cared for in daycare centers, never learning to create traditional arts or other cultural expressions.


Tsigo bugeh Village (Ohkay Owingeh), completed in 2003, is an award winning residential rental community development that combines traditional living with modern design and conveniences.


Today federal policy leaders, tribal housing authorities and architects increasingly recognize the ramifications of cultural disintegration caused by community and housing designs. Across the country there is a burgeoning interest in developing truly sustainable housing that incorporates ecological, economic and cultural concerns. For example, in 2009, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Navajo architect David Sloan the Cultural Design Award in recognition of his contemporary architectural designs that integrate energy efficiency, water reuse and Navajo design traditions of the hogan, which embody indigenous concepts of directionality, balance and harmony, expressed through eastward facing doors and open vistas to “watch the weather roll in.”


The Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative (SNCC) is a group of tribal leaders, community designers, entrepreneurs and sustainability advocates who are collaborating to provide communities with technical and design assistance, workshops and training focused on culturally and environmentally sensitive housing.


In a new partnership with the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship (GCCE), SNCC is beginning to develop a national network and technical assistance plat­form to assist tribal leaders in building a more sustain­able community while protecting natural resources and cultural values. GCCE’s focus is on fostering entrepreneurship based in cultural values and on helping Native entrepreneurs build culturally grounded businesses in the “green economy.” This initiative requires exploring the internal and external challenges that cultural entrepreneurs face and understanding the ways in which their skills and crafts can be brought to market to strengthen local vernacular traditions and local economies, thus providing stable lives for skilled artisans and laborers. This partnership with GCCE is funded through the New Mexico Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), a program of the National Science Foundation.


The partnership is in the midst of researching and documenting case studies throughout NM that highlight the concept of cultural entrepreneurship in built environments. We hope to learn from these studies, and we expect that they can provide inspiration and educational opportunities for other tribal housing authorities to envision and build healthy, culturally relevant, green homes.


Our team has identified 88 tribal projects across the nation working to design and build green housing units. Many of these are working to integrate cultural aspects into the developments. Additionally, we are working to integrate small business development and entrepreneurship planning into the framework of housing development projects. Federally funded housing projects often invest $10-30 million in the planning and building, yet fail to couple this investment with small-business training and capacity building for local entrepreneurs. Our overall goal of this multi-year project is to shift tribal housing planning and building to include and reflect cultural considerations and leverage the substantial investments to support local small businesses and entrepreneurs.



Bennie Francisco, Jr.—or Jayare—is Diné (Navajo). He is originally from Prewitt, NM. Bennie graduated from the University of NM with a B.A. in Native American Studies with a concentration in Leadership and Building Native Nations. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Tulsa—College of Law, in a dual Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law and Juris Doctorate program.

Bennie is also a program manager for the Santa Fe-based nonprofit Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship, which is working to create the world’s first network of community cultural entrepreneurs, cultural investors and cultural entrepreneurship educators. In partnership with the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative, Bennie is leading the compilation of a nationwide network of tribal and non-Native leaders, architects, builders and designers. 505.948.1504, ,




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