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Joseph Kunkel

2019 Obama Fellows


Santa Fe, New Mexico





Favorite book:

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer


American Indian communities face incredible challenges tied to health and economic inequality, lack of social services, and poor infrastructure. Mainstream approaches to tribal housing development have ignored the local history, culture, and context of each community. Without engaging with the systemic challenges interwoven into housing instability, housing development projects in Indian Country will fail to offer meaningful solutions.


The Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative Opens in a new tab — now the SNC Design Lab, a part of MASS Design Group’s global, nonprofit design platform — is a first-of-its-kind design program focused on developing new strategies for closing the housing gap in Indian Country. By working hands-on with tribal elders and community members, Joseph and his team have helped design and build affordable housing projects at a much faster rate than many housing authorities. They have harnessed architecture as a wealth-building engine within Native communities, demonstrating that housing is economic development. Beyond architecture projects, Joseph and his team spend time mentoring the next generation of tribal leaders in the design, planning, and construction fields. The organization also synthesizes and disseminates best practices around native design through research, case studies, and online tools. The end goal of this work is to help tribal leaders realize affordable housing development as a path to economic stability and tribal sovereignty.

Greatest victory:

"Simply put, the Northern Cheyenne Basketball Clinic. This is a yearly tribal youth event I started with friends almost 10 years ago. Every summer, we immerse ourselves on the Northern Cheyenne Nation reservation bringing together some of the country’s top high school basketball coaches for a one-week cross-cultural exchange. This week-long youth development program combines basketball with physical fitness education, healthy nutrition mentoring, and youth leadership activities."