The Energy Efficiency and Cultural Significance of Traditional Housing: Comparing the Navajo Nation and Pueblo of Acoma in an Effort to Reform Federal Indian Programs

Kayla DeVault

Federal Indian programs are intentioned to promote tribal self-determination, yet they paradoxically serve a vast quantity of cultures through singular blanket programs. One example of a generalizing program structure is the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Public and Indian Housing. This program works to provide housing to tribal members of various parts of the country; however, the housing provided is generic, does not serve the cultural needs of the individual, and is not tailored to the specific environment as a traditional home would epistemologically be suited for. The Navajo Nation is a prime example of a culture whose traditional housing is intricately designed to suit the spiritual and physical needs of the people and which utilizes available resources for construction.

As part of an ongoing series studying the thermal efficiency and cultural significance of such traditional housing, this paper discusses the hoogan nímazí. A design based completely around the concept of sun cycles, hogans are traditionally constructed from sandy soil and logs to create a year-round home suitable to the Four Corners region. I examine several hogans to compare the energy efficiency of different housing materials commonly used in these traditional homes and their contemporary versions. I find the most traditional techniques utilized by the Navajo hogan builders (i.e., mud and log homes rather than imported brick and plywood) are the most thermally effective and best suited for life on Dinébikéyah. I also briefly cover the second part of this series that discusses Sky City at the Pueblo of Acoma. This comparison helps demonstrate why federal programs and policies must be reformed to adequately serve individual nations.

Part 1: Navajo Hooghan Study

Before understanding the needs of any given community, it is important to place it into historic and political context. For the Navajo Nation, a notoriously large and checkerboarded nation within a nation, land jurisdiction is to blame for many complications on the Reservation. Although the Treaty of 1868 and subsequent land transactions clearly define the tribal boundaries, the status of actual land parcels can fall into a number of categories. These jurisdictional nuances not only complicate the development of business by adding layers of red tape, but they also complicate housing procedures. Between grazing permits and home-site leases, Navajos have access to their land with an overwhelming number of conditions – many of which are imposed and enforced by the Federal government. As traditional Navajo housing never consisted of land ownership and written documents, this shift to a Western structure has caused numerous repercussions throughout both the housing and the economic departments.

To aggravate complication in housing programs on the Navajo Reservation, the Navajo Nation is also subject to a number of Indian programs managed by the overarching Federal government. Arguably, these housing programs – along with other programs established by the Treaty of 1868 – are subtle tools of assimilation. They range from promoting the construction of churches and the establishment of non-traditional jobs to the creation of an English-based education system and a money-based economy. Therefore, in a community that was once dominated by sheepherders inhabiting hooghan structures, a shift to Americanized, contemporary jobs and housing has occurred in the last century on the Navajo Nation.

The Office of Public and Indian Housing cites one of its roles as ensuring “safe, decent, and affordable housing” as part of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program. The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination ACT (NAHASDA) of 1996 granted tribes the authority – despite their allegedly pre-established status as sovereign nations – to determine the housing programs they choose to fund.1 Yet, despite this influence from sovereign nations, the Federal program still identifies housing issues in Indian Country per Western standards and completely neglects the cultural loss perpetuated by programs that create accessibility to only Western-tailored housing and needs.

One classic example of housing complications exists in present-day South Dakota. The Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Sioux Lakota has been cited for years as a great challenge to HUD, with many people living in overcrowded and under insulated homes, if not tents or cars. To tackle this issue, some groups have sought grant funds to build new and sustainable housing on tribal land.2 Put this housing predicament in stark contrast with the Lakota encampment currently expanding in a harsh winter environment at #NoDAPL and suddenly a disconnect between Federal programs and tradition becomes clear: Native peoples are fully aware of how to construct adequate housing for their indigenous environments.

Unfortunately, the approach of the federal programs regarding housing is not unlike the approach of many federal programs in Indian Country – and this concern should not be overlooked. In a 2013 report by the Housing Assistance Council, it was cited that 4.8% of homes in Indian Country “lacked complete kitchens” and that 5.3% “lacked complete plumbing”, versus national statistics of 0.07% and 0.05%, respectively. The standards used to define a “complete kitchen” or “complete plumbing” might reflect general American standards of living, but these definitions do not necessarily align with the traditional housing standards that might be defined by a sovereign nation, were that sovereign nation truly and uninhibitedly allowed to exercise its full rights and define a system that keeps its cultural identity intact.3

This is not to say tribal nations lack an interest in full plumbing for all their citizens as well as other amenities that add comfort and convenience to everyday life; however, it is critical to realize the solutions offered in place of traditional housing are often ill-suited for the local environment, require an import of materials not readily available to tribal members, and ignore the validity and epistemological knowledge embedded in traditional – and often ancient – housing designs.

In the case of the Oglala Sioux Lakota, modern housing challenges include the climate which “[ranges] from the arid desert to the frozen tundra”.4 Yet, traditional Lakota housing was of course well-adapted to this kind of environment, optimizing the use of local resources such as animal hides and wood to create wind-resistant and thermally efficient tipis. These homes were also ideal for quickly dismantling, transporting, and reconstructing at new camps. Similarly, the Dine'é of the Navajo Nation have relied on the ancient technology of the hooghan (English: hogan) for surviving on limited resources in a similarly harsh and changing semi-arid desert climate.

The Navajo Housing Authority (NHA), established in 1963, is a tribally operated program carrying the HUD mission of Hooghandee éí Hahoozhoodgo Iina Sila dóó Anooseel – or “building sustainable, quality homes” for tribal members.5 It operates under NAHASDA and utilizes funds from the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) and Title VI Loan Guarantee, regulated by 24 CFR Part 1000. Yet, while NHA aims to assert the Navajo Nation's sovereignty by directing a housing program for its Navajo citizens, the system and standards it utilizes are arguably adopted directly from the HUD program, a blanket program that fails to consider the individual housing needs of tribal citizens. The houses constructed are generic, American urban models that do not implement natural resources in the way the traditional hooghan does. The models, based on “full kitchens” and plumbing systems, are also useless if an individual's home-site lease has no access to running water or electricity. Although many homes do have utilities today compared to in previous generations, sites without access to such amenities do exist. In these places, traditional hooghans would most clearly be an ideal housing solution.

So the disparage between promoted housing services and the cultural needs of the Navajo nation may be better illustrated, this research attempts to quantify the effectiveness of traditional homes. It analyzes the thermal efficiency of Navajo hooghans by collecting data from three real models made with different kinds of housing materials. As suspected, the closer the hooghan design is to the traditional one constructed of local resources, the more thermally efficient it was. The closer the materials were to “contemporary” and “imported” materials, such as brick or particleboard, the less efficient the hooghan is and the least readily available its materials are for new construction. Although all models analyzed were in fact hooghans, the inefficiency of contemporary housing materials in traditional housing should be seen as a parallel to the negative impact non-traditional housing programs have on the self-determination, material availability, and thermal efficiency of housing in Indian Country and, in particular, on the Navajo Nation.

A theoretical model of a standard hooghan was created to analyze the thermal efficiency of real hooghan measurements. This model must take into account the amount of irradiation received on all surfaces of the hooghan through direct, reflected, and diffuse sunlight. The second key component to the model is the construction of the hooghan itself, from the materials used to the geometry of the structure. With this information, the amount of energy that does not pass through the materials and also the amount of energy lost through the materials with time can be approximated. Combined with an assumed internal base condition (to represent the quantity of heat retained from previous sun cycles), these components can help predict a hooghan's performance under varying temperature conditions.

Before considering the specifics of the theoretical model, it is important to first understand the physical and spiritual construction details implemented in all Navajo hooghan designs. Navajo traditions are centered on the patterns of the sun, including the direction of the sunrise, the four phases of the day interpreted in Navajo philosophy, and the four seasons which are also dictated by the earth's position in regards to the sun. Navajos orient everything to the east, so even maps are most accurately drawn with the east direction in what most printed maps would assign to the north. With so much emphasis put on the sun and the sacredness of the sunrise, all hooghans are constructed with an east-facing door.

The traditional female hooghan can be constructed with straight legs or with parallel logs and is always round. In general, the hooghan nímazí (or “round hogan”) is the female hooghan constructed with nine parallel logs stacked in eight faces. Four faces are in the cardinal directions, the door placed on the eastern face. The nine logs are meant to represent nine months of pregnancy. Windows are not traditional details to a hooghan, but today they tend to be placed in the south- and north-facing walls. All hooghans are constructed with a fire at the center, meaning the roof as an opening at the top where smoke can pass through. Since the introduction of a fire-burning stove, this opening is where the stovepipe exits.

The cultural significance of the hooghan is extensive. From a scientific standpoint and at a bare minimum, understanding the purposeful design of the hooghan is sufficient for modeling its geometry and position with regards to incident sunlight. As stated previously, there are two concepts which govern the majority of thermal energy transactions between the sun and the space within an unheated hooghan: Irradiation (Q in) through the housing materials to the inside and Q loss from the interior which passes through the housing materials. First, we must consider how to quantify the Q in by predicting the amount of sunlight incident on a Navajo hooghan.

The Navajo Nation consists of land in the Four Corners area that predominantly occupies northeastern Arizona. The capitol of the Central Agency, Chinle, is the approximate center of the nation and located at a latitude of about 36.1544˚N. The three hooghans measured for this project were located in Tse Bonito, New Mexico (35.6567˚N), Window Rock, Arizona (35.6806˚N), and Dilkon, Arizona (35.3853˚N). Based on the central latitude of the Navajo Nation and the latitudes of the three hooghans measured, utilizing solar data from the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico (latitude 35.0853˚N) is appropriate for both this project and as an approximation for the Navajo Nation in general. (Due to the data collection laws on the Navajo Nation and the lack of solar data collection resources, solar data is neither sufficiently collected nor readily available from the Navajo Nation itself.) Therefore, for the purpose of calculating irradiation data for the theoretical model in this project, solar data was used from the National Renewable Energy Lab's Typical Meteorological Year 3 data for Albuquerque during the month the hooghans were measured (October).

The total sun energy incident on a surface (total irradiation, or I T) at a given time is represented by the sum of I B, the beam (direct sunlight) component, I D, the diffuse (incident on surface after scattered from surrounding atmosphere) component, and I R, the reflected (from the ground) component. IR can be broken down further as the sum of beam and diffuse irradiation multiplied by ρ g, the reflectivity factor of the ground. For these purposes, the reflectivity is estimated at 0.4, a value used for ground in a sandy desert. The Qloss which describes the amount of energy (heat) lost from the inside of the hooghan and through surfaces such as the walls and roof can be calculated as a function of temperature and thermal mass. Newton's Law of Cooling demonstrates the temperature gradient of the inside and outside atmosphere as being the driving factor in the calculation. Second, the thermal mass of the materials through which the energy passes must be calculated and multiplied by a resistance factor. The area for this thermal mass is the exposed surface area providing resistance. The resistance factor is a sum of the inverse of the wall's materials R-values. The resistivity weighted by surface area for each Hogan was found to range between 1.3 and 2.5.

For an average temperature range of 17˚C (which was encountered during the project), the predicted Q loss per day would therefore be 7340Btu for the semi-traditional hooghan, 7404Btu for the traditional hooghan, and 11822Btu for the contemporary hooghan. The inconsistency between the predicted losses and the actual losses indicate the challenge in accurately quantifying housing material's thermal resistivity. Additionally, quantifying the amount of heat steadily retained in each hooghan proved challenging but necessary in order to predict what internal temperatures would be achieved during a 24-hour period. Now that the performance of the hooghans have been documented on a scientific level, it is important to comprehend how these ancient houses are epistemologically centered on more than just thermal design but also on hózh ǫ́ and k'é.

Because Navajo philosophy centers around the idea of Mother Earth and Father Sky, the idea of belonging is also established by the hooghan. The earthen floor represents Mother Earth; the open air through the smoke hole represents Father Sky. At night, the Northern Star can be seen through the hole and therefore symbolizes the fire at the heart of the universe. The hooghan is a sacred symbol constructed with such purpose that even possessions inside the home have a particular place: Cooking items are kept in the southeast corner, bedding in the southwest, tools in the northwest, and religious paraphernalia in the northeast.

Even the Navajo Nation's land base is represented symbolically as a hooghan, establishing that this is where the Dine'é belong. The four directions are marked by the four sacred mountains: Mount Blanca or Sis Naajiní (east), Mount Taylor or Tsoodził (south), San Francisco Peaks or Dook'o'oosłííd (west), and La Plata/Mount Hesperus or Dibé Nitsaa (north). These mountains also represent the four directions that orient the hooghan, based on the four sticks that were placed in the most ancient hooghan form: the male fork-sticked hogan. The two other sacred sites, Gobernador Knob, or (Dził) Ch'óol'į́'í, and Huerfano Mesa, or Dził Ná'oodiłii, are located more centrally in the original Navajo territory in present-day New Mexico. In the ancient hooghan design, these two additional mountains form the entrance to the home that extends beyond the eastern wall.

According to oral tradition, the Diyin Dine'é, or the Holy People, placed these mountains in order to provide a home for the Dine'é; therefore, the hooghan, representing these mountains and sandwiched between Mother Earth and Father Sky, serves as a reminder of this important relationship. The Navajo traditionally value the relationship they have with Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the Holy People as they value the relationships within their homes, clans, and tribe. These relationships are also known as k'é. K'é is a concept that is both intrinsic and key to Navajo worldview as it embodies the relationships between beings. These relationships extend to include the interrelatedness of the human race and the interconnectedness of all beings in the universe.

A second key concept is the idea of hózh ǫ́. Hózh ǫ́ is a Navajo cultural worldview that is generally understood as the balance or harmony necessary in our relationship with the natural world. This concept can be translated in many ways, from the responsibility of maintaining ceremony and balance in the natural world to the necessity of acknowledging the interrelations defined by k'é as a means of holding each other accountable for the aforementioned responsibilities. The hooghan not only embodies the ideas of hózh ǫ́ and k'é, but it also represents positive environmental stewardship through the use of passive solar design in building and maintaining modest housing.

On October 22-23 and October 27-29, 2016, the three hooghans were visited for the purpose of taking temperature data and dimensional measurements. For each hooghan measured, 4 external and 5 internal temperatures were taken. This data was graphed so that the internal and external temperatures at each cardinal direction could be compared to one another with time. Next, the average internal and average external temperatures were calculated and graphed with time per hooghan. In addition to this information, trend lines were added to show a smoother representation of the temperature data. A sinusoidal line was also drawn onto the graph to roughly symbolize these average temperatures in relation to the daylight hours.

A miniature hooghan model was also built and measured, and two graphs were made to represent its temperature readings. Deciding to create the miniature model proved to be an important task in understanding the thermal trends inside a hooghan. Because the model created was placed on the ground after peak sunlight and immediately measured, the model was not able to receive and retain any heat internally. This meant the model's internal temperatures were at or below the external temperatures as the night progressed. With a full day of sunlight to absorb, the model may have had a set of temperature data comparable to that of an actual hooghan of similar design. For the real hooghans and as suspected, the results obtained suggest that the more traditional the hooghan, the more thermally efficient its design. These results are consistent with the belief that indigenous methodology, based on ancient principles and practices, produces solutions best suited for the indigenous group's native environment. More sets of data collected more accurately and more completely could further demonstrate this theory.

In the future, not only could more hooghans be tested but potentially HUD or NHA-style houses could also be analyzed. The results from such experiments could be used to influence the housing programs utilized on the Navajo Nation and various other parts of Indian Country. Additionally, such analyses could be incorporated to greater studies related to energy consumption on the Navajo Nation, the cost to construct and maintain different kinds of housing, and even the effects promoting housing that is constructed with local materials and which burns woody resources have on controlling the brush and forest fires that have become more frequent in recent years. With more information to support theory, research of this nature could have a positive effect on the cultural relevancy and energy efficiency of homes constructed through the housing programs present in modern Indian Country.

Part 2: Sky City of Acoma

To reiterate, the cultural incompetence of services to the Navajo Nation is not a problem unique to that tribe. Many Federal services are obligated to Native American tribes as a condition of treaty rights and other international agreements. This means many programs, such those that serve as transportation, education, and housing, are either run by branches of the Department of the Interior or by tribes utilizing the assistance of federal funds and outside contractors. All of these programs are “blanket” services as they are chartered identically by the federal government to all 567 federally-recognized tribes in the U.S. There is no tailoring of a program to a tribe's culture or geography location. In fact, the only tribe-specific detail that alters e.g. a transportation program is the population size of the community, and even that detail is only used to determine monetary delegations.

This lack of program modification means the cultural validation and self-determination the Federal Government is supposed to support is excluded. In contrast to the more remote traditional lifestyle of the Navajos, such insensitivity to cultural and geographical needs at the Pueblo of Acoma is evident by the construction of new, Western homes that displace a once tight-knit, ceremonial community. The Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Acoma are geographically similar, but their cultural needs are worlds apart; therefore, in order to analyze the depth of this insensitivity, it is important to also consider the traditional way of life for H'aaku'me ( Acoma people), the brilliancy of energy-efficient Pueblo blueprints, and proposals for how the Federal Government could serve tribal nations better. The summary of these findings is used to propose a model for quantifying cultural needs in site-specific services is created to suggest a way outside contractors can better meet the needs of tribal people.

Located just south of I-40 near Grants, New Mexico, the Pueblo of Acoma is one of 19 Pueblos in the state. The Pueblos trace their ancestry to the Anasazi who once occupied southwestern present-day Colorado. According to the legend told at H'aaku, the mesa where Sky City sits was originally discovered when Salt Woman led the people to the “center of the Earth” while spiraling inwards and anti-clockwise towards H'aaku. In fact, in the Keresan language, H'aaku translates to “the place prepared” – implying that the mesa had everything the people needed in one place, awaiting their arrival as it was especially for them.

The mesas at and near Sky City have been occupied by the Pueblo of Acoma for hundreds of years. When the Spanish began arriving in the 1500s, the Pueblos became victims of harsh religious crusades and, eventually, slave labor. This is how the only church at H'aaku came to be built, using timber enslaved men were forced to bring down from sacred Mount Taylor and carry up the sides of the mesa. In 1680, the Pueblos successfully united to overthrow Spanish control and take back their communities.6

The Spanish had worked for generations to convert the Pueblos to Catholicism. Pueblo spirituality, however, runs very deep. In fact, the Pueblos are known to be some of the most religious of all groups in the present-day United States. Traditionally, these people lived in tight-knit communities. That is the reason why their legal name is not Tribe or Nation or Rancheria but Pueblo, as it means city in Spanish. Living in such a close community is critical to many aspects of Pueblo life, but it is especially necessary for two major functions: 1) the preparing and processing of community surpluses and 2) religious ceremonies. Not only did living in close community with one another mean processing food and participating in religious practices were easier, but traditional Pueblo homes were actually designed to facilitate such communal activities.

At the Pueblo of Acoma's Sky City, also known as Haak'u, the homes hark back to the cliff-dwelling days of the Anasazi. Constructed out of adobe and mud, each house fits into one of three main rows of predominantly three-storey buildings. The northernmost walls contain the third floors. Both second and third floors are accessible only by ladder. The first stories, facing the south, are usually accessible by doorways that open to the street. In general, there are very few openings in the homes save for a few skylights and vents.7 The specific engineering of these homes is critical to encapsulating their scientific success, but the functionality of the design is equally important. Because the two major functions of Pueblo life in a place like Sky City are traditionally centered around food preparation and ceremonial activities, it is important to note how these buildings facilitate such community engagement.

The flat roofs with complete sun exposure have always been ideal for drying things like corn kernels for storage. Inside the homes, certain rooms were dedicated to grinding corn. Women would kneel side-by-side and grind corn on stones, passing them between bins of varying fineness. The walls behind them were hollowed out to accommodate their legs and feet in such small spaces. Perhaps the most interesting piece to the corn-grinding process is that dried kernels were delivered directly to the grinding room via chutes built into the housing structure itself.

Pueblo homes are notorious for having poles that extend beyond the building's walls. These play a role in hanging ristas full of drying chiles, or even strips of meat. Other foods, such as halves of peaches, could be dried on the roof alongside kernels. Prepared piñons were placed in dedicated storage rooms where cisterns were built into the walls. These cisterns could then be sealed with plaster. Various other vegetables, including squash, could be stored in these rooms as well. All in all, a Pueblo house could contain several years worth of stored food at any given moment.

The proximity of these homes made it easy to share resources as well as to participate in community events. Many religious ceremonies occur in the streets of traditional Pueblos, the citizens typically occupying the roofs as they would to observe nearly any street activity. At the Pueblo of Acoma, there were also dedicated fire-watchers and, during certain ceremonies, every woman in the village had to stoke a fire in the home. From the traditional, religious point-of-view, participating in these ceremonies is absolutely crucial for guaranteeing the well-being of the community and for maintaining a natural balance in the world. Of course, these beautiful homes also provide so much more to the world in terms of engineering brilliance. According to the tour guide at Sky City, the Spanish introduced the true adobe material, which contains straw. Previously, Pueblo construction very closely matched Anasazi work: peculiarly long, thin bricks of mud that were stacked with thick amounts of mortar between them. Walls are built against each other but not into each other, and bricks are placed in a honeycombed fashion that can be easily disassembled when a home is no longer occupied and used to build another home nearby.

The adobe in most homes is approximately two-feet thick. While some sources claim adobe actually has an R-value nearly equivalent to modern masonry or wooden-framed walls, other factors, such as thermal lag and air tightness, are what make adobe such a high performer in such climates as New Mexico. Add this factor to the tall, winding northern walls and sun-exposed southern steps and the result is a building that absorbs – and retains – a significant amount of incident solar energy. This particular design utilizes what is called the “solar envelope”. Many modern buildings and city planners have proposed adopting this concept as if it is novel. However, the Pueblo trace their use of the solar envelope back to the Anasazi days where they utilized both the sun and the protection of cliffs to live a comfortable life.

Due to certain walls in a housing unit being exposed to different amounts of solar radiation, the rooms on the uppermost section of each floor are the warmest. Therefore, the rooms below them are dedicated as storage rooms. The warmer rooms are used to prepare food on traditional, bee-hive-like ovens and as sleeping quarters. It takes only a slightly stoked fire to comfortably heat one of these rooms in the night, even in the coldest of New Mexican weather. This is due largely to the building's orientation to the sun, its thick adobe walls, and the absence of other buildings overshadowing its solar envelope. An additional piece of traditional Pueblo housing that makes it so ideal is its roofs' exposure to sunlight. These rooftops are in the perfect position to receive more daylight than any other part of the building, and they are also where food is dried and generally prepared. This means communities like Sky City were able to maximize their workdays without the need for any additional lighting to complete food preparation tasks.

As history indicates, a lot of change has occurred in Indian Country during the last few centuries alone. This change has typically meant an enormous shift in structure, values, and access to resources. It has created a dependency for many communities on Federal Indian programs. It has also created a number of community ills, most of which could be arguably traced back to systemic issues, or to policies which promoted assimilation and tribal termination. The Pueblos are no exceptions. Now that the traditional Pueblo home and the purpose of its design has been explained, it is necessary to circle back to the aforementioned blanket federal services that exist for this community.

The Pueblo of Acoma Housing Authority (PAHA) is to the Pueblo of Acoma what NHA is to the Navajo Nation. PAHA's motto is “providing safe and affordable housing opportunities”, an expression that suggests dangerous communities and financial security are two categories of concern. Even Acoma's housingentity fails to mention cultural needs in any of its motivators. If the tribe does not prioritize these needs, then it is certain the federal government does not either. In the meantime, families are placed into Western, cookie-cutter homes. These homes are made from imported materials, not thermally efficient, and fail to address any of the spiritual needs of a place like H'aaku Across the Pueblo of Acoma as well as across numerous other Pueblos, the displacement of families into distant, isolated homes has caused great distress on the community's wellbeing. Elders describe what could be categorized as “cultural loss and damage” via this displacement.

Although PAHA has secured the funds for a new housing project, it has again hired outside contractors to design new buildings that match the aesthetics of Pueblo homes but which surely are not made of two feet of adobe or constructed with ladders to the second stories. This is because outsiders – whether contractors or federal agents – neither know about cultural needs nor are competent enough in them to adequately provide them. However, it could be argued such services are necessary for meeting the self-determination obligation agencies have to tribal nations and communities.8

Conclusion: A Proposal Moving Foreward

The questions then becomes: Is it possible to quantify the cultural needs of a community by the same means one would quantify thermal efficiency or cost in dollar figures? Should such a thing even be attempted? While some cultural processes have been created for communities such as the Maori of New Zealand, what could a process look like for something like the Pueblo of Acoma?9 The Navajo Nation? Any and all sovereign nations resisting a colonial structure?

For the purposes of this ongoing project, answers to these questions were attempted by constructing two tables which demonstrate how one might attempt to quantify cultural competency success of services based on tribe-specific paradigms. These tables, which are provided below, are also used to demonstrate the stark contrast between the cultures used for this project: the Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Acoma. Although these tables are merely drafts and should never be used in place of proper community consultation, such models offer hope to how outside contractors could better provide for tribal members.

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Federal programs owe tribes across the country more cultural sensitivity and validation than they presently do. This is necessary for the promotion of self-determination and necessary for honoring culture and identity. If Indian housing programs could be more culturally competent, not only might they eliminate many social ills plaguing communities today but the homes would also be more energy efficient. Furthermore, the federal government has a responsibility to do better, the contractor has a responsibility to meet its client's needs, and the tribe has the responsibility to prioritize cultural competency. While quantifying culture may be hard to do, it appears to be one step in the right direction for all the diversity of tribal nations. It will also assist in dispelling myths or stereotypes. By reviving the solar envelope techniques of ancient Pueblo buildings may also lead to better and more energy efficient cities. Reforming this system will not only save energy, but it will also help preserve the community's culture and traditional way of life.


1 “Obstacles, Solutions, and Self-Determination in Indian Housing Policy”, last modified Spring 2015, last accessed November 20, 2016,

2,3 “Building Better Homes in Indian Country”, last modified January 20, 2014, last accessed November 20, 2016,

4 “The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996: Background and Information,” last modified January 27, 2015, last accessed November 20, 2016,

5 “Navajo Housing Authority,” last accessed November 20, 2016,

6 Sky City Tour, April 15, 2017.

7 Nabokov, Peter, 1986, Architecture of Acoma Pueblo: The 1934 Historic American Buildings Survey Project, Ancient City Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

8 PHAHA homepage, last accessed April 25, 2017. Housing_Authority.aspx

9 Roy, Eleanor. “New Zealand river granted same legal rights as human being”, March 16, 2017, last accessed April 28, 2017. /2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being