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Know the West

Straw bales relieve housing crunch

  For six years, Red Feather Development Group has been pushing a low-cost solution to the housing crunch on Indian reservations, where extended families often squeeze into tiny government-issue homes. One answer, according to the Bellevue, Wash.-based nonprofit, lies in building houses with bales of straw.

The bales are a product of the wheat harvest on many Western reservations. Stacked together, they provide wall insulation and structural support for houses which are cheaper and four to seven times better-insulated than comparable public housing.

Using volunteer labor from reservations and community groups, Red Feather has organized construction of over three dozen homes for needy families. Locals learn straw-bale construction by working on Red Feather buildings and are equipped to build their own homes; several residents of Montana's Crow reservation did just that following a Red Feather project there last summer.

Federal housing authorities are catching on, as well. Following the latest Red Feather demonstration in July on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Housing and Urban Development officials were enthusiastic about increased construction of straw-bale houses on reservations.

"It's a really positive moment for us," says Red Feather spokeswoman Betsy Model.

For more information, call Red Feather at 425/453-7188 or look on the Web at www.redfeather.org.