Podcast: Placemaking in Native Communities with Joseph Kunkel, MASS Design Group

Posted on January 29, 2021

Joseph Kunkel - GovLove

Joseph Kunkel

Joseph Kunkel
MASS Design Group
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Sustainable planning and design. Joseph Kunkel, Principal at MASS Design Group and Director of the Sustainable Native Communities Design Lab, joined the podcast to talk about planning projects with Native communities. He discussed his work on affordable housing in Indian Country and engaging with the community to incorporate local context and art. He also shared examples of projects incorporating placemaking.

This episode is part of ELGL’s Creative Community series, a partnership with ArtPlace America and CivicArts to write, explore, share, and learn about creative placemaking.

Host: Ben Kittelson


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Learn More

Sustainable Native Communities Design Lab

Joseph Kunkel is Fast-Tracking Quality Housing for Indigenous People

Tribal Healthy Homes Roadmap

Center for Indian Country Development

Enterprise Community Partners – Rural and Native American Program

Sustainable Native Communities Collaboration Website

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land—COVID-19’s Impact on Indian Country

First People Fund

Native Arts & Culture Foundation

Episode Transcription


Ben Kittelson  00:00

All right should be recording. Hey all! Coming from Jacksonville, Florida. This is Gov Love, a podcast about local government brought to you by by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittleson, consultant at Raftelis and Gov love co host. We’ve got a great episode for you today we’re going to be talking placemaking and Native communities. But first, the best way to support Gov Love is to become an ELGL member. ELGL is a professional association engaging the brightest minds in local government. Today’s episode is also part of our creative community series, which is a partnership with ArtPlace America and CivicArts. Before we get into today’s episode, Gov Love is brought to you by granicus. Short term rentals or STRs are found on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. And they are more than just party mansions in LA. Their numbers are growing at a staggering rate in 1000s of communities across North America. What does this mean for local government? It’s time to act. Short term rentals can be a tremendous source of revenue for local governments or a real community nuisance. It all depends on adopting the right Compliance and Enforcement strategy. To date over 350 communities have partnered with Granicus on their Short term rentals compliance programs for everything from address and host identification to ordinance consulting and permitting tools. Interested in learning more about the Short term rentals market and your community and how granicus can help? Visit granicus.com to schedule a free consultation. That’s granicus.com for more information Now, let me introduce today’s guest. Joseph Kunkel, is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne nation. He’s a principal at Mass design group where he leads a sustainable native community Design Lab. He’s based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he leads a body of work that focuses on the planning, design and development of affordable housing with American Indian communities nationwide. He’s got a lot of hats. He’s also a fellow at the Obama Foundation, and an inaugural fellow at the civil society fellowship, a partnership between the Aspen Institute and the anti defamation league. With that, Joseph, welcome to Gov Love, thank you so much for joining us.

Joseph Kunkel  02:07

Excellent. Thanks for having me. I’m excited about today’s conversation.

Ben Kittelson 02:11

Cool. So we have a tradition on the podcast to do a lightning round to get to have our help our listeners get to know you a little better, you know, helps everybody warm up too. So my first question for you. What book are you currently reading?

Joseph Kunkel  02:25

Yeah, we were. We got a, the Obama Foundation recommended some books over winter break. And I’ve been kind of diving into this book by Mia Birdsong, How We Show Up. It’s a kind of book about thinking about family, friendship, and community and thinking about like, what are our roles in which we play and so on. So it’s been a really, it’s been a nice time to kind of dive into this, this book here.

Ben Kittelson  02:53

Yeah. Cool. And my next question for you. What was the first concert that you went to?

Joseph Kunkel  03:00

Yes, it was a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. Great. Great. Yeah. I really loved that.

Ben Kittelson 03:09

That’s a good first concert.

Joseph Kunkel  03:12

Yes, yes.

Ben Kittelson 03:15

All right. So now in our next question, in our kind of time, having or spending a little more time at home, are you watching or bingeing any any TV right now?

Joseph Kunkel  03:24

Yeah. been kind of diving back into the homeland series. I don’t know. I guess I started it when it came out. I kind of lost track of it. And now just kind of getting through it. So it’s been interesting to kind of think about, as we kind of go through all that we’re going through now.

Ben Kittelson  03:45

Yeah, yeah. There’s like a ton of seasons of that show, too. Right. Like, it’s, it’s quite the catalog.

Joseph Kunkel  03:52

Yeah, it’s definitely kept my attention for a couple months now. A few months now.

Ben Kittelson 03:57

Yeah. It’s a big project. All right. My last lightning round question for you, where do you go for inspiration?

Joseph Kunkel  04:06

That’s a good one. I mean, I I’m constantly surrounded by people who inspire me and mentor me. And I think it’s both thinking about our tribal youth who inspire me, their ability to kind of show up and continue to kind of pave the path forward. And then I think too, reflecting on some of our elders that have passed, kind of gone on to the next camp and, and those that are with us today. They continue to inspire me and kind of encourage me to continue to show up in the work that we’re doing so.

Ben Kittelson 04:48

Is there a way you you connect with them? Is it like, kind of just regular connections in the community or is there like a, I don’t know groups that you go to, to kind of connect with the youth or the elders in your community?

Joseph Kunkel  05:01

Yeah, well, a couple of projects that we’re working on, working directly with our, our elders. And so how we’re all connecting today, right, via zoom or trying to find ways to connect remotely. And then our youth, whether it’s instagram, facebook, or we’re just kind of showing up again, on the phone or on zoom. But, yeah, just trying to make sure that those connections, try and stay strong during this time where we can’t physically be together. It’s been a been a challenge, but it’s well worth the time.

Ben Kittelson 05:41

So, one thing I’d like to always ask folks is kind of how they ended up in the role they’re in. And usually, you know, we do that with a little government spin of like, there’s no one path into service. But I’m also curious, like, for you, like, it’s kind of a unique area of work that you you’ve that you’re in. So how did you end up in your current roles? So your career path to, to kind of your role with MASS Design Group?

Joseph Kunkel  06:07

Yeah. Well, it’s definitely an unconventional it’s an unconventional path in architecture, design, planning, engineering field. I mean, I, I went to school, and I trained as a architectural engineer, studying architecture, engineering, structural engineering, in my undergraduate and thinking about ways in which that work could potentially be impacting my own community, southeastern Montana and Indian Country thinking about the infrastructure issues that plague Indian country, housing issues, the kind of public infrastructure that kind of saw all over Indian country. So I thought that was the that was what I was going to be doing. And inevitably, I graduated from undergrad I went on and decided that engineering wasn’t necessarily the right path for me, or architectural engineering and went to go study, I thought it was a design problem. So I went and studied architecture, I’ve got my master’s in Architecture and Planning, thinking more broadly about kind of the systemic issues that plague Indian country. And when I graduated from graduate school, I realized that these aren’t issues that your traditional architecture firms tackle, right, they are working, more or less for those that, and this is much more of a blanket statement, but trying to find those firms that kind of focus on these social issues, these kind of civic issues at scale. That’s not necessarily something that your traditional architecture firm does. They they’re working on. Corporate architecture projects, they’re working in campus planning, they’re working for those that have the capital to build, build at scale. And I saw my role as being something more nuanced and working in communities. I thought that was like, that was the Civic architect. That was the kind of why we went to school to think about communities to think about ways in which design can impact communities and but I practiced, I practiced in your kind of traditional structure for four to five years and then eventually had the opportunity to apply for the enterprise rose architectural fellowship, which places young aspiring architects into Community Development Corporations into Community Housing corporations that are focused on developing affordable housing, and really trying to understand ways in which that that would actually be be developed. And so during my fellowship, I was placed, it was a partnership between the Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority, and this kind of budding nonprofit called the sustainable native communities collaborative. And that basically pulled me out of kind of your corporate architecture, traditional architectural path to becoming an architect and place me and really kind of developed my skill sets as a as kind of this public interest designer working, working in Indian Country working on affordable housing issues. The fellowship more broadly kind of focuses on affordable housing issues across the US, the United States, both in rural areas, urban areas, tribal areas, but I was specifically focused within this kind of small community, the Santa Domingo Pueblo community about 5000 tribal members, tribal citizens, and I was tasked with trying to develop affordable housing. So fast forward four and a half years, five years and we were successful in developing a 41 unit housing development and a 3000 square foot community center that really kind of lifted up the vision of the community and what housing meant to them and what housing could be with the community in mind. So kind of developing, instead of an architect coming in and just basically designing housing for the community, we were really thoughtful and how we were, we were going to be designing with the community in mind and developing an architecture developing a housing development that really reflected the kind of cultural nuances and the cultural relevancy of the community. And that, I think, was pretty powerful. And we, I mean, it was kind of in a very kind of complex way, I would say that it’s like community place, making place keeping indigenous place making in a way that I think lifted up the community as a core piece of the development. And this the project was funded by many, many different organizations. It was funded through the Native American and Self-Determination Housing Act, NAHASDA, through the Indian community development block grant fund, Indian housing block grant fund, through HUD, and along with philanthropic organizations like Artplace America, the National Endowment for the Arts, really lifting up arts, because the community members, in many ways relied on the arts as a main source of income, their potters, jewelers, they made made things and and as part of our design, we were really kind of focused on lifting that up, knowing that they needed a place to make in their in their households. And so every one of these 41 units, has a attached to it to our this kind of art studio, that kind of gave them gave them the ability to make make. Fast forward again, we we incorporated the sustainable native communities collaborative as a nonprofit. And then, very quickly, we became overwhelmed with the amount of work that we are we had tasked we were tasked with across the nation working with tribes across the United States, or what is now considered the US. And we were basically partnering with MASS to help us take this work on. And then very quickly, we kind of were like, well, what could we do more together? How can we do how can we scale this work as a collaborative as a, as a as a bringing this portfolio of work within the MASS kind of thinking about how natives and non natives are working together to better Indian country. And that kind of paved the way for a place for the sustainable native communities collaborative within MASS. And in the beginning of 2019, we brought the portfolio within mass and kind of labeled it kind of restructured it as a sustainable native communities Design Lab, where we were trying to find ways in which we could bring architecture planning and design to Indian country at scale and, and, and work as a native non native collaborative knowing that these are issues that we need to be addressing as a collective as a as as populations working together rather than just a native issue. Natives working on Native issues and non natives working on non native issues. But how can we work collaboratively and together to solve the crisis in Indian country?

Ben Kittelson 13:32

So, that’s, yeah, that’s fascinating. And yeah, you’re right, what a unique like career path into, in getting to do kind of what you will, well, what I imagine you want to do, and and give back to your community. That’s, like, really cool. So when you when you started the collab, the collaborative, the nonprofit, and then, like it’s spun in now into the design lab, where were these like, projects coming from? Is it like, you know, communities within Indian country, kind of across the country, like coming to you and like, Oh, I there’s there’s just this demand for service that didn’t exist before? Or is it, are you plugging into kind of projects that were maybe already in the pipeline that just, this gives them the kind of attention that they needed? Or I guess what, maybe give us maybe an idea of kind of the projects y’all are working on?

Joseph Kunkel  14:20

Yeah, I mean, these are issues, the projects that we work on are issues that I think have always plagued Indian country, right? Housing insecurity, not an equitable access to health care, food insecurity, educational issues around being able to get to school or not get to school, transportation issues, why do we not have access to kind of public infrastructure like a bus route or heavy commuter rail or something along those lines. But I think in our unique position, we’re really thinking critically about ways in which design can start to address these issues, systemic issues And it’s not just an engineering process, it’s not just a policy issue, these are kind of systemic issues that I think design is uniquely framed or kind of kind of that design can uniquely address. And so we have communities that come to us because they realize that we can be leveraging kind of the kind of built environment in a productive way. I’d also say that, on a side note, like, many of the communities that we’ve worked with haven’t necessarily seen design or architecture or planning as, as pertinent, right? It’s always it’s something that the more wealthier communities can afford, right? You hire an architect, or you hire a planner, or you hire an engineer to address an issue that you see pertinent, whether it’s like, I mean, and if you kind of think more broadly about who hires an architect, it’s those that typically have the wealth to be able to. And so you’re more marginalized communities don’t think of architecture as, as, as a kind of a, an essential piece of the development process. And I think what we’re trying to do is ensure that communities have the ability to access good design to access high quality architects and designers to be addressing some of these systemic issues that are plaguing the community and find ways to leverage public dollars federal dollars with philanthropic dollars and your kind of more traditional debt capital, we have kind of traditionally built wealth and created wealth across the United States, I think that’s more or less what we’re we’re attempting to do, whether it’s develop a housing market within Indian country where one doesn’t exist currently, and get more people into homeownership so that they can build equity, they can build their own wealth, how the kind of majority of people in the United States have kind of created their own wealth through real estate and also ensure that people have access to quality health care, quality education, high quality foods, and so on. So definitely think it’s more or less an equity issue around design and architecture. 

Ben Kittelson  17:19

Yeah. Well, some of the things he touched on there, like they’re bigger than design or architecture, I would say like the connecting to, you know, transportation, education, healthcare, like, now you’re getting into like some of the like, I don’t know, the, like folks might think of as traditional, like, you know, city or county planning functions. Is that part of your work as well like doing some of that, like, community level planning of like, what’s needed to get this kind of business here and this kind of resource there? 

Joseph Kunkel  17:47

Yeah, I mean, we’re trained as planners. I mean, that’s part of I think, why we think of the I think of it at the this kind of more systemic, yeah, this kind of systemic level, because I think, I mean, the work that we’re doing, in many ways, I mean, as a, as a designer, as a planner, somebody that’s kind of practicing architecture in this space, I think it is very much a, these are systems that have been designed, and many ways have been designed inequitably. And so, how are we leveraging policy? How are we leveraging these kind of systemic issues to redesign them in ways that address the kind of cultural nuances within the communities that we’re working in? And that’s something that I think is really exciting. For me, it’s, it’s not, it doesn’t have to be this kind of Western down kind of perspective, it could be a process that lifts up, the kind of indigenous knowledges within the community, it does kind of it can be something that is very much a sovereign way of thinking about community development, about community policy, planning, so on so forth,

Ben Kittelson 18:54

Yeah. So kind of on that note, like, what’s the engagement? So, you know, you’re you got a new project with, you know, an Indian community somewhere, like what, what’s the engagement process, like to kind of understand, you know, what they’re looking for, and understand kind of that, that local nuance and that local, you know, desire for individual project or community level kind of planning.

Joseph Kunkel  19:16

I mean, it all starts, in my mind and in the work that we’ve done, it all starts with that initial conversation, and, and really trying to understand ways in which we can develop a conversation and listen to the needs of the community. It is, I mean, we have inevitably become focused on ways in which we can engage and ensure that the community members and community leaders, tribal leaders are part of the process and not just necessarily hiring a consultant to go do the work we really need to be understanding how to develop a common language and immerse ourselves within the community, and many times when we’re working with a tribal community with a, with a native nation, we’re, we’re kind of working and developing a partnership for the long term, this is not something that we just design a building and leave. Yeah, it’s it’s really a long term effort. And we’re really trying to develop a long term relationship, so we can have long term impact within the community.

Ben Kittelson 20:30

So is that like engagement? Or you’re meeting with tribal leaders? And then are you doing like, traditional community meetings? Like, like a, like a city or local government would? Or is it more, you know, small group kind of stuff? Or what is your kind of, I guess the, the nuts and bolts of your kind of engagement process look like?

Joseph Kunkel  20:47

Yeah, it definitely. I mean, we work with the tribal programs on a one on one basis, a lot of the times it’s trying to find how the planning department is or isn’t working with the the women, infant and children, children’s program, WIC. With the early headstart, I mean, it’s definitely kind of trying to work and understand the nuances of the tribal programs of the various tribal departments, and then slowly bringing that conversation together as a whole, and then trying to then figure out how to work with tribal elders and tribal youth. And ideally, towards the end of the engagement process, we’re all having one conversation. We’re trying to hear the overlaps of where people are working together and not together, ways in which we can kind of get to that one conversation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not like a, I wouldn’t say that there is a there’s one process that we use every time. Once we start having these conversations and engaging with the various parties at hand, we end up developing something that is unique to that community. I mean, 574 federally recognized tribes across the US, across the United States, everyone has their own way of doing things. And I think that’s, there’s a beauty in that. And we want to make sure that we’re lifting up that that perspective.

Ben Kittelson 22:15

All right, I’m gonna ask what might be a dumb question. But so the tribal like structure, is it is it structured kind of like a, like a city government or county government where you’ve got different departments that are kind of doing planning or public safety or whatever? And that’s one question, then how does that interact with the, you know, the county level government or the nearby cities or communities that might that might interact with the tribal community? How does that kind of piece of this work?

Joseph Kunkel  22:45

Yeah, no, great question. I mean, a tribal like a sovereign, like a federally recognized tribe is a sovereign nation, they’re, they have the ability to kind of self determine how they want to kind of structure their government, but every tribe has has an obligation to be in a government to government relationship with the federal government. So inevitably, there is some type of, quote unquote, Western style method in which they do that. They have a tribal president, they have a governor, they have a tribal chief, they have somebody that’s leading this kind of political structure, and then inevitably, like a city government, like a like a state government, they have all these kind of ways of administering those relationships. And so I would say that, yeah, it’s very much set up like a city. They have the ability to kind of be in conversation with a, with a county government, with a town government, they have to be held accountable in many ways to show up. And I would say that sometimes that works well, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, there’s a good tribal government structure, and sometimes there’s not. But I think it’s a constant. It’s a constant effort to work towards something, work towards a tribal government structure that can can operationalize, like work on the ground that is working towards something that is culturally relevant for their community, while also kind of lifting up the obligations of the tribal government responding to a government to government relations. And so that that is something that I think is constantly in working with various tribes and some tribes are maybe more nuanced and other tribes are working towards it. And it’s, it’s different at various scales.

Ben Kittelson 24:51

Yeah, I imagine. And what’s kind of the like, maybe regional collaboration. I mean, you can kind of speak generally, I don’t know if any of you projects have dealt with this directly. But it’s kind of like that regional collaboration piece like, you know, I imagine some, you know, community members might need to, you know, commute into a nearby town or or or want to do business with nearby communities is that, how is that kind of relationship? I assume it’s kind of government to government like it’s in a regional area with with a bunch of cities. Is that Is that a fair characterization?

Joseph Kunkel  25:26

Well, yeah, I mean, you look at I mean, there’s many case examples, if you look at I mean, one kind of direct example is, you have many state roads that go through tribal lands. You have, you drive through the Dakotas, and you see the sign entering Oglala Lakota reservation or Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana. And inevitably, there is a relationship there, right? The state government needs to maybe plow their road, and they need to have well, and then the tribal government is like, Well, why you you stare to North Dakota, why are you not plowing our roads, this State Road, but you’re plowing other roads, or you need to get out here to fix this or fix that. And so inevitably, there needs to be kind of a government to government relationship there. And ideally, you’re kind of working in reciprocity in some in some ways. Look at a case example, the Gila River Nation in, just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, where they are developing, I mean, economically in a, in a very prosperous way, they had kind of developed a whole economy, just outside of the bounds of kind of the metro Phoenix region, and have been able to kind of take that into account where they have developing shops and places to kind of be active and golf courses and a casino that operates adjacent to Phoenix and has become very prosperous for the for the community. And but yet, inevitably, they need to kind of be working. Yeah. With the with the with the state government and local governments to ensure that there is a relationship there.

Ben Kittelson 27:17

Yeah. Yeah. It’s like another layer. Another wrinkle on kind of regional collaboration is hard enough, or is hard kind of regardless of the parties involved. And so it’s another kind of wrinkle of interesting, so I was curious about that as we were talking. So one thing I wanted to make sure I asked about when I was doing research for this episode, I saw that you had done some research around healthy, something called a healthy homes roadmap for affordable tribal housing. Can you what is that research kind of what were some of the things that came out of that, and and then I want to kind of ask about the affordable housing issue in Indian country more broadly.

Joseph Kunkel  27:59

Yeah, no, I mean, and it’s really come come to come to a head now with what we see today with COVID, right? This, this notion about indoor air quality, the ability to kind of be in close quarters with one another and spreading, spreading the kind of COVID-19 with this kind of pandemic, and I would say that this has been something that has plagued under the kind of healthy homes and the ability to have a healthy home more generally, has been something that has plagued Indian country, systemically in this kind of crazy way. And I think this tool that was developed back in 2014-2015, was a way to kind of be thinking critically about, about just the issues that we’re facing today, the indoor air quality, the ability to kind of have access to clean air, access to healthy building materials, access to the spaces that are afforded so that there’s not not overcrowding and I think what this tool was meant to do was to help prepare housing authorities to help prepare tribal leaders to be thinking critically about how how housing affects the overall health of a tribal community. And these are issues that affect rural America that affect urban America and not just Indian country, but I was more kind of focused on of course, the populations that we serve that I serve as Indian country and assuring that they they understand the nuances about the built environment and the potential for it to be kind of a pandemic in itself. Across Indian country we see poor poor housing quality which when when you have a leaking roof or the inability to kind of properly ventilate your home, you start to contribute to mold issues and mold issues start to contribute to respiratory issues and respiratory issues start to lead to long term health issues, which inevitably shortens ones individual life, life lifespan, and this effects both elders and youth, like if you’re growing up in a, in a moldy home that’s gonna affect and potentially give you respiratory issues for the rest of your life. And so how are we thinking critically about things that maybe more affluent populations don’t have to worry about. And with the ability to kind of access good indoor air quality, the ability to kind of not have to worry about purchasing an air filter for your air conditioning or heater. Those are kind of things that this health online healthy tool was, was meant to start to address. It wasn’t the end all be all tool. But it was supposed to start leading individuals, tribal leaders, tribal housing authorities in the right direction to ensure that they have the right resources to start to access, whether it’s from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the rural development through the US Department of Agriculture or other local resources, state resources, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Interior, so it was meant to kind of be a leading tool to other potential resources.

Ben Kittelson 31:21

Very cool. Yeah, we’ll make sure to link to that. Because that, in kind of the notes of this episode, so we can folks can check that out. And yeah, you’ve touched on this a little bit, but affordable housing within Indian country is it’s a it’s a, it’s a big issue, like a lot of cities are dealing with this as well. But what’s what makes it kind of what were kind of maybe the unique, I don’t know, wrinkles, of kind of the formal housing issue within Indian country? What what’s kind of, can you give our listeners maybe an idea of what, why this issue is important? And kind of what what’s kind of the scope of the challenge?

Joseph Kunkel  31:58

Yeah, I mean, this has been something that has, the housing issue has been something that has been been impacting Indian country since Western contact. And then more more, I guess, fast forward just a short while after that, it’s the kind of treaties, the treaties that tribes started to create and make with the US federal government. And in some, in some of those treaties, housing was a core component that the federal government would provide housing, along with education, health care, and food security. But in many instances, all those kind of nuances were substandard, right? Oh, your native population, you don’t really have the power or you don’t have the kind of public facing ability to kind of create a uproar. So we’re just going to give make sure that you have somewhere to go to and the 1937 Housing Act basically put the Department of Housing urban development in charge of housing development across Indian country, which, how do you do that from, from a DC office and just basically blanket and develop housing where you probably never stepped foot. So the housing issue started to really become an issue right from there. And then you have Senator Dawes and the Dawes Act that basically were prior to the 1937 Housing Act, basically placed individual native families on on their own land, individual lands. So you started to break up community and this kind of this community structure that was inherent in, in many tribal communities. And so you have many policies that started to break down the community, the the kind of sense of, the sense of place, and so on, so forth. We’ll just fast forward to today. And I kind of I’m leaving a lot out. There’s a lot in between there, that I’m not kind of talking about. But if you look at the issue today, there’s an immediate need of 200,000 units of housing. And then the the direct mechanism for building housing in Indian country is through the Indian housing block grant, the IHBG, and then through NAHASDA, which the IHBG kind of falls under, which is equivalent to let’s just say the community development block grant that many cities have access through and develop their affordable housing through well, that fund like many city funds, town funds is inaccurate, but, or it’s not enough. It’s just not enough. And so we have that 684, $650 million per year that gets allocated to 570 plus tribal communities across this country. And if you were to break that down, let’s just say we’re gonna break it down evenly. It’s not broken down evenly. It’s broken down per population, but let’s just do a math equation. If we were to break it down evenly, it’d be about $1.1 million per year per tribe. That kind of breaks down to three homes per year per tribe. If we think again, Go back to that $200,000 Mark, it would take about 118-117 years to build 200,000 units of housing, not taking into consideration population growth, not taking into consideration, the increase in construction costs, which we’re seeing right now go up exponentially per week in terms of wood packages and framing costs. So we’re just not anywhere near the ability to kind of address the housing need, that we see, the housing crisis that we see in Indian country. So that compounded on all the health implications, that compounded on all the kind of social inequities that we see in Indian country is just, it’s it just becomes really, I would say, a scare for your kind of your your your housing, your typical native family that’s living on a reservation in a rural place in the US. So I would say that we’re trying to rethink how we are leveraging sovereignty, how we’re leveraging self determination to, to build housing, that we can’t be reliant on the federal government that while we do have access to the Indian housing block grant, how are we leveraging that and recapitalizing that into debt equity into other sources of financial ways to build better, more sustainable, healthier housing that lifts up the cultural relevancies of our our indigenous populations?

Ben Kittelson 36:27

Interesting. So what is that kind of new, what is an example of maybe have, like a new approach if you’re if you’re trying to develop housing without kind of just relying on the Indian federal block grant?

Joseph Kunkel  36:41

Well, the Indian housing block grant, I think has solely, you know whereas is that I think that Block Grant has always been used to build a full home, right? So instead of and it’s, it’s always has it’s, it’s that that’s our pot of money, that’s what we get to build with. So let’s build our 1, 2, 3 homes per year as a small tribe, well, let’s kind of rethink that. We have this congressional outlay of dollars every year, and it fluctuates, it goes up and down. But let’s start to spread those dollars across many units of housing, rather than rather than building a full home with that with that pot of money, let’s kind of spread it over multiple homes, and then think about more traditional ways of financing, housing development, and the kind of traditional way is taking on debt, thinking about credit, thinking about all these issues, all these financial mechanisms that haven’t been afforded to Indian Country historically. So this is this really kind of speaks to opening up, like banking institutions and educating, educating banking institutions of why it’s important to be investing on reservation lands, why it’s important to be thinking about tribal sovereignty and thinking about actually putting money to work on reservations in ways that haven’t been done before. And I think there’s, I mean, when I think about that, that’s where I get really excited to be thinking about creating equity, creating, creating wealth on tribes and developing that over time so that families aren’t given a home, that they’re investing in a home themselves and actually creating a home, not just building a house.

Ben Kittelson  38:23

Yeah, that that is exciting. And so is there, like if our if our listeners want to learn more about that and kind of attracting some of the investment in Indian Country, Is there like a resource you can point them towards? Or is that we can point them? 

Joseph Kunkel  38:38

Yeah, I mean, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has a program called the Center for Indian Country development, which is kind of working on some of these issues. You look at Enterprise Community Partners, rural and native initiatives, which is an intermediary and another nonprofit that’s kind of focused on these issues. I mean, they’re developing resources. They’re developing the capacities you look at, if you just Google native community development, financial institutions, or native CDFIs, you see them working at small scales across the US more specifically here in the southwest and in the plains regions. But you see, yeah, you see it happening on small scales, but what I’m I’m envisioning, is that something that is being done at the national scale, something that is really, really kind of innovative and thoughtful, and in my mind, it’s, how are we using design to do that? How are we kind of thinking about the kind of more structural issues?

Ben Kittelson  39:39

Yeah, well, that’s a that’s a good, good transition to kind of talking about some of the design and placemaking work you’ve done. So thanks for humoring me on the kind of bigger picture like affordable housing issue and questions like those super fascinating, but I definitely want to ask you about placemaking. So, for you, maybe Let’s start big, like, how do you define kind of placemaking? And how do you define it?

Joseph Kunkel  40:06

Yeah, I mean, it’s a it’s a controversial term, I think in Indian country. I would say that. I would say that, while the principles are exactly what I think and I align with, and I think about every day, I mean, it is about understanding that every community has the ability or has these kind of creative connections to land, to community, to place, and ways in which we develop around those principles, around those places. And so in many ways, it’s kind of this notion of indigenous place keeping, we want to be able to kind of be building on what is there rather than kind of bringing in ideas to make it better, right? Because then it inevitably becomes this placeless place. I would say that creative placemaking is kind of building on the creativity of the community, the the kind of cultural nuances of the community, the elders, the youth. That’s what I think makes creative placemaking so powerful is that there’s something unique about every place, and we got to build and think and design and construct around those those those nuances.

Message  41:26

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Ben Kittelson  42:19

And I read a little bit, and I think you mentioned earlier in our conversation about the Santa Domingo Pueblo project, and some of the walking trail and art around that. Can you tell our listeners about that project kind of? And then if you have other examples, definitely hear those too.

Joseph Kunkel  42:36

Yeah, no, the the Santa Domingo Heritage, walking trail. Walking Heritage Trail is basically a piece of infrastructure. I mean, it’s a very, in my mind a very simple project, right. It’s a trail that connects the historic village to a new housing development. And it’s a piece of infrastructure that maybe more kind of urban and suburban communities take for it, take for granted. It’s a trail that connects point A to point B, point B to point C and your ability to kind of walk where before this trail was created there, there was no ability to walk, you had to walk on the road. And there was not, it wasn’t lit. And so the potential to get hit or walk an unsafe pathway to get from your visit to your to your grandma grandpa was unsafe. And so this is basically a solution to connect housing withl to one another, and leverage and think about what what is the role of kind of public infrastructure in a rural community. And on a side, it’s a trail that runs parallel to this heavy commuter rail called the rail runner, which connects Santa Fe and Albuquerque. But it’s also potential for those, those those commuters to look into this village for a brief moment, and see that there’s artwork happening to see that there’s kind of creativity in this kind of small indigenous community. And maybe next time when that train stops at that train, stop, I’ll get off and maybe spend a little bit of money, buy a pot, buy some jewelry, and so hopefully thinking creatively about what what is the potential around an economy, a creative economy and ways of connecting that more broadly to the community. And plus, this piece of infrastructure connects artisans to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, so that you don’t need to have a car you can hop on the commuter rail and, and access the art markets, access the Santa Fe Indian School, access to the University of New Mexico. And so it offers many opportunities to be thinking about connection in ways that I think we take for granted sometimes in these kind of suburban and more urban environments.

Ben Kittelson  44:50

And are there any other examples of placemaking work or kind of some of this artwork, on projects that you’ve worked on in other places?

Joseph Kunkel  45:00

Yeah, I mean, we’re working right now, well I’m in the kind of Portland metro region, thinking critically about the Willamette falls, and ways in which indigenous voices are part of the redevelopment efforts of the Willamette falls trail, this trail that is kind of opening back up, opening back up to the waterfront, to the, to the river. And so what are creative ways to engage in those that, those tribes that have kind of called this place home since time immemorial, and ensuring that their voices are part of the redevelopment and part of the trail narrative, while also thinking about the urban Indian populations that have been relocated due to relocation and that these might not necessarily be their indigenous homelands, but they are now part of the community and are a vested voice in the development and the redevelopment of the connection to the falls. And so I think when we’re thinking about creative placemaking, we’re ensuring that that voices are part of part of development projects where they might not necessarily have been if, if the if this, these conversations weren’t happening. So and then there’s, of course, many projects happening that we aren’t necessarily a part of in the, in the in the Plains region with the with the first First Peoples fund and their work around a rural arts development. So there’s, there’s many things going on, I think, in Indian country that we need to be excited about. The arts, the Native Arts and Culture Foundation, based out of Portland is doing some really amazing work around engaging native artists and ensuring that they have the access and resources to kind of be be part of the larger political conversation and policy conversations.

Ben Kittelson  46:56

Very cool. So a small world I’m from the Portland Oregon area, and I’ve worked for the city of West Linn, which is on one side of the river of the falls. But that was like, I think, probably before that project was even, even, very beginning. So that’s, that’s really cool.

Joseph Kunkel  47:16

That’s awesome. Yeah. Small world for

Ben Kittelson  47:19

Awesome. So is there anything else that, on this front that you want to share that with our listeners, or this, this has been fascinating. I’ve really enjoyed kind of bouncing around all the different topics with you, so.

Joseph Kunkel  47:32

Yeah, no, no. Yeah, I just think, yeah, more people. I think my goal is for both, I can give this as I mean, as I was saying before, a native non native issue, historically, those practicing in professional spaces, law, architecture, engineering planning, have been non natives, they have the ability to kind of go to school, get that kind of professional education, and then they end up working in Indian country. And so I see this as how are we educating both natives and non natives to be working in these spaces in a kind of culturally competent way. And I think that’s what we’re trying to create a path pathway for. And I’m just really excited to, for non natives to learn about these issues and kind of share these kind of nuances, and then do their own research and kind of educate themselves about how they could be impacting and thinking more creatively about ways of bringing capacity to Indian country.

Ben Kittelson  48:34

Yeah, very cool. Yeah. appreciate you taking the time to share with us about this. So I know we’re almost out of time. But kind of on that front. What’s been the response to some of the kind of engagement efforts from the local communities as you’ve gone in, because there is kind of this maybe historical baggage of like people coming in from the outside to kind of tell Indian country what to do. What’s kind of been the response of like, engaging with folks interested in your experience?

Joseph Kunkel  49:03

I mean, it’s met with hesitation at the beginning, right? It’s like, well, we’ve gone through this process. We’ve we’ve heard this before, and nothing has come about it. And I would say that, I mean, as conversations develop, as they kind of see the, the, the potential and the kind of hopefulness of the work that we’re doing, people become engaged, people want to be part of the project. Sometimes we have to build that kind of first part of the project to get people engaged and part of the process, but I’m hopeful and I’m kind of optimistic, but I’m optimistic in a way that is based in kind of positive work being done because of the positive work being done that we can do this and continue to move down that path.

Ben Kittelson  50:00

Very cool. Very cool. All right. So we have one last traditional question on Gov Love. If you could be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as the exit music for this episode?

Joseph Kunkel  50:13

That’s a, that’s a hard one. I mean, I would say that anything from A Tribe Called Red would be something that we would potentially end with. Whenever I’m kind of getting pumped up for a community meeting or thinking about ways in which we can be moving forward and trying to find that energy. I just, A Tribe Called Red is, they they definitely get me get me going for what I’m about to engage with.

Ben Kittelson  50:50

Perfect, perfect. We’ll get that cued up and that ends our episode for today. Joseph, thank you so much for coming on and talk with me and sharing your expertise. Like I really appreciate you. Appreciate it.

Joseph Kunkel  51:02

No, thank you for the opportunity. had a great conversation.

Ben Kittelson  51:06

Yeah. And for our listeners, Gov Love is brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. You can reach us online at ELGL.org/GovLove. We’re on twitter at the handle @GovLovePodcast. The best way to support Gov Love is by joining ELGL. Membership is $50 for individual and $25 for students. You can also become a super member and sign up your whole organization. Subscribe to Gov Love on your favorite podcast app. If you’re already subscribed, go tell a friend or colleague about this podcast, help us spread the word that Gov Love is the go to place for local government stories. With that, thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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