Rachel Dorothy Tanur Memorial Lecture: Sam Olbekson, “Culture, Community, and Environmental Justice in Contemporary Indigenous Design”

Aerial view of a housing complex near two large roads. A city with skyscrapers can be seen in the distance.

Mino-bimaadiziwin multi-family housing development, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Event Information
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This event recording is also available to watch with audio description.

Event Description

Creating a strong sense of place is critical to cultural identity in Native American communities. New tribal building and planning projects provide significant opportunities for tribal communities to reinforce cultural revival efforts while advancing economic, educational, and healthcare initiatives. This session will encourage an open and interactive discussion of the central issues in tribal design and efforts to lead a fundamental shift toward culturally appropriate design solutions and self-determination. From rural reservation single-family houses to inner-city multifamily mixed-use urban developments, Native American communities face unique challenges and opportunities. Legal and political constraints, complicated funding mechanisms, and a lack of infrastructure all contribute to a critical shortage of adequate housing and economic opportunity in most Native American communities. Many design solutions for tribal communities, unfortunately, fall back on one-size-fits-all models of development and design cliches that do not respond to the distinct social structures of Native families or reflect the diverse range of cultural and artistic expression unique to each tribe. This discussion will highlight diverse Native American projects that have challenged the status quo of typical tribal design and planning projects with innovative and culturally respectful design solutions.


Headshot of Sam Olbekson, who sits in front of a brick wall and wears a gray collared shirt.As an Indigenous architect with over 25 years of design, comprehensive planning, and cultural visioning experience, Sam Olbekson, MAUD ’05, serves tribal communities and Indigenous organizations by bringing a Native perspective to the design and planning process. 

With a sincere commitment to improving the lives of tribal community members, Sam brings a wealth of experience and cultural knowledge as a talented designer on a wide range of mixed-use, urban design, residential, institutional, hospitality, landscape, educational, and community-oriented projects. He is committed to helping advance the cultural preservation, economic growth, health, and well-being of Native communities through sound planning and practical design strategies that are beautiful, innovative, sustainable, functional, and culturally specific. 

Published nationally as a thought leader in contemporary Native American design theory, Sam is known as a progressive and skilled design thinker on culturally significant projects and produces unique and inventive design solutions that respond to cultural tradition in innovative and contemporary ways without relying on stereotypical imagery. Sam is also passionate about serving his community. He holds leadership positions with a number of American Indian organizations and has received numerous recognitions for both design and community service.

Follow Sam Olbekson on Twitter.

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