August 24, 2017

Building Resilience in the Santo Domingo Pueblo

landscape near Santo Domingo Pueblo

My name is Lauren Hooper and I’m a Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority in rural New Mexico. As a recent college graduate, VISTA has given me the opportunity to learn about and serve a new community, all while earning money for graduate school and gaining valuable experience. I love being an AmeriCorps VISTA because of the different hats I get to wear each day, ranging from housing assessments and project management to disaster services and community organizing.

Santo Domingo, traditionally known as Kewa Pueblo, is located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The pueblo dates back pre 15th century and has long been a Southwestern hub of beautiful art and tradition. Since its inception in 1995, the housing authority has worked to provide safe, culturally appropriate, sustainable housing to the Santo Domingo community. They’ve been host to a number of innovative projects, namely the Wa-Di Housing Development and the Santo Domingo Heritage Arts Trail (in conjunction with Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative).

My Role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member

During my next 6 months of service here, I’m focusing on the tribe’s ongoing FEMA project to help community members affected by flooding access federal funds to rehabilitate their homes. Day to day this includes researching policy and funding opportunities, and meeting with the Board of Commissioners here to go over ideas and goals. My work on this project has led to collaborations with community health officials, public health nurses, contractors and professionals to look at best practices for flood clean up and mold eradication in the community.

Currently, we’re thinking about hosting community focus groups to better understand some of the barriers to full disaster recovery the community is experiencing. This project has also led to talks with college professors and community professionals about sustainable design for healthier homes that are also more resilient to flood damages and after effects.

Focusing on Resilience Strategies for a Thriving Community

Through the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, I’m participating in the Emerging Resilience Professionals Mentorship Program for VISTAs working on resilience projects. I’ve been paired with a scientist working for North Carolina Sea Grant to both foster my professional development and help me explore different ways to help Santo Domingo plan for and respond to the extreme weather events we’ve been seeing more and more of.

Focusing on the resiliency of Santo Domingo as a community and sacred space is the core of my VISTA term, and is an incredibly intersectional task. Lack of safe and stable shelter is a huge barrier to employment, education, financial security and ability to meet cultural obligations. Housing isn’t just building homes for community members to live in; it’s creating spaces for traditions to live on and thrive. It’s the cornerstone of community and individual health, especially in tribal communities, bringing together both a respect for history and adaptation for future generations.

My ultimate goal is to leave the housing authority with access to more tools and resources to better address climate events, community health and to develop overall resiliency. This community has welcomed me with open arms and I hope that my time serving Santo Domingo is equally as exciting and valuable for them as it is for me.

Lauren Hooper is a Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience VISTA member hosted by the Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority.

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