The Pine Ridge Reservation is isolated. It can take hours to get from one end to the other. That makes it difficult to bring people together. But there’s now a new, centralized meeting place equipped with high end technology.
The new Thunder Valley Community Center is an open room with concrete floors and tall walls. It’s bright from natural light that pours in through wide windows.
Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation leases the space for meetings, conferences and even family family gatherings.
It’s a tall two-story building divided into two parts—one for events and another that offers overnight accommodations.
There’s a clean, modern feeling to the center, but designers were intentional about incorporating traditional Lakota details. The pipes on the ceiling are visible and neatly organized between wooden panels, similar to the beams in a teepee. Kimberly Pelkofsky is Thunder Valley’s Director of Design and Planning.
“The idea for the community center was really to have a space that felt like it was always here. Always part of the community, reflected the values and the ideas of the people.”
Pelkofsky says planning for the community center began several years ago. They asked people who live on the reservation what they felt was missing in the area. After hearing the responses, Thunder Valley staff decided on a community center. Designers shared the blueprints before the building process began and asked questions like…
“Does this feel Lakota to you? Do you feel represented in this space? Do you feel drawn in this place? So looking at ways to make sure that traditional architectural techniques and design could be incorporated into a modern building with modern and contemporary uses.”
A steele window opens revealing a counter and small kitchen...because sharing food at gatherings is a Lakota tradition.
“Just little touches that kind of bring those connections through into this new building so that it feels more of this place and not just a building that was dropped in.”
The space is energy efficient, just like the housing development in Thunder Valley. It runs off of LED lights and there are plans to add solar panels. The building is also equipped with high end technology. There’s a massive projector and sound system that turns on with the push of a button. Willi White is the Communications Director at Thunder Valley.
“And that was really intentional just to give our communities access to that type of technology and those type of tools because there’s not really any of this type of technology in any other space on the reservation.”
Meeting spaces aren’t a new concept, but White says this one is filling a long-standing need on Pine Ridge. The building is in a central spot on the reservation and can save people hours of driving. There’s even a place people can rent a bed to sleep - they call it the bunker. White walks outside to another addition built next to the community center.
“Few different bunk rooms through here but this is one of our four bunk rooms.”
Eight rooms with bunk beds can sleep about 15 people. There’s a kitchen and bathroom with showers, just like a hostel. There aren’t many hotels on the reservation and it takes a while to get to any of them from Thunder Valley. Guests pay about 30 dollars a night for a bed in the bunker. White says the overnight rooms are another way designers added conveniences to the space.
“It gives our community members and anybody really a space to hold and create and conveen. It’s really about fostering community.”
Business meetings and conferences are already scheduled at the community center in the coming months—and there’s even a summer wedding planned for the center. Nineteen year old Amadea Pourier is an intern at Thunder Valley and lives in Pine Ridge.
“You usually don’t hear of weddings on the reservation so having a space to utilize for a wedding I heel like would be super cool to see”
She says the central location makes it easier to get to.
“You don’t usually see buildings on the reservation that try try to incorporate culture and what we believe in so I feel like it’s really cool that thunder Valley spoke to the community first before starting the construction of the building.”
Another intern from the reservation, eighteen year Charlie Eagle Bull, agrees.
"I think it’s a really good opportunity to bring our community together kind os as a place for us to gather and create memories.”
Developers with Thunder Valley Community Development Center plan to add more features to the building in the coming months—including a playground—to make people of all ages feel welcome and comfortable.