Local entrepreneurs unveiled the first modular hogan on the Navajo Nation last week — and they are looking toward ramping production of the unique homes, combining traditional styles with environmentally friendly building techniques.
Indigenous Community Enterprises at Northern Arizona University has steadily built the Navajo Hogan/Roundwood Manufacturing Project, conceived two years ago to produce low-cost hogan structures for Navajo families. The project also aims to make use of the small-diameter trees from local forest thinning efforts.
ICE has completed its first model hogan at Cameron and has two more prototypes scheduled for construction in the next six weeks. The project will start hiring workers and delivering its first hogan homes by late fall of this year.
Brett KenCairn, the project director, said he was excited for Navajo Nation president Kelsey Begaye to visit Cameron last week at the unveiling of the first hogan and voice his approval of the project.
"We have been working for over two and a half years on this project and have tried to work very patiently and carefully with the community … to try to develop a program that incorporates and respects traditional culture. We've known from the beginning that we don't know … We went through two years of slowly going back and forth with the community about the designs. We're very honored by President Begaye's willingness to come and commemorate the project with his remarks," KenCairn said, adding it was a good sign that a member of the government traveled "all the way to little Cameron" to mark the event.
With an estimated average selling cost of $30,000 to $40,000 , the hogans are designed to be affordable and to provide maximum heat efficiency and minimal maintenance. The wood used in the construction process will be 6- to 9-inch diameter logs, often burned as part of the U.S. Forest Service's prescribed burn program.
"By using this type of wood, the cost of forest restoration would be reduced from $800 per acre to an average of $50 to $100 per acre, so it's a cost-saving measure for the Forest Service," KenCairn said. He estimated the hogan project will use wood from up to 1,000 acres of forest restoration treatments each year.
KenCairn said the hogan showcased in Cameron last week is just a beginning. Project participants are milling the wood for the next prototype at Leupp Elementary School. Recently, they broke ground and laid a foundation for a third hogan to be located outside NAU's Forestry Building. That hogan will be built this fall.
Indigenous Community Enterprises is also celebrating the receipt of their first major piece of machinery, that will speed up the building process because it is able to produce uniform poles from small-diameter trees. That machine has been made available through a partnership between ICE, the Navajo Nation and the Cameron Chapter of the Navajo Nation, a local unit of government there.
"Our goal is to begin producing a hogan a week by the end of this year, up to four or five a week by this time next year," KenCairn said.
Partners in the project so far have included the Arizona Community Foundation, which "saw the potential when we had no money, no staff, just an idea," KenCairn said. He also noted that the Forest Service has helped ICE to secure federal funding.
NAU schools and colleges involved in the project include the College of Engineering and Technology, the School of Forestry in the College of Ecosystem Science and Management, the College of Business Administration and the Center for Sustainable Environments.
KenCairn said one of the most gratifying parts of the project for him is "it's demonstrated to the community that we were serious and we would follow though. The community (in Cameron) has seen a lot of projects come and go," he said.
"Its been very exciting to see the community start to have some excitement and hope about this. When people start to get inspired, a lot of unexpected things start happening. That's what I already see happening up there."
KenCairn said he's watched Cameron residents initiate physical improvements to chapter grounds and start land use planning committees, efforts he believes are linked to the hogan project.
"One thing begets another," he said.
Anne Minard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2253.