Like much of Eagle Bull’s work, the Gila River Indian Community Governance Center in central Arizona incorporates carefully-selected cultural elements of the tribe that uses the building. (Courtesy of the architect)

Tamara Eagle Bull, FAIA

Leading a new wave of Native American architecture

The first Native American woman in the U.S. to become a licensed architect, Tamara Eagle Bull, FAIA, advocates for culturally relevant and responsible design in contemporary Native American architecture.

 

A member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Eagle Bull channels three decades of experience through her firm Encompass Architects in Lincoln, Nebraska, which concentrates on projects for native groups. Having faced prejudice on her own journey through architecture, she works to rectify a built environment in which Native Americans have had little say, and where functionality is often compromised by generic pan-Native American motifs. In addition to its work with tribal clients, Encompass Architects has reshaped Lincoln’s urban fabric through a variety of significant commercial projects.

 

“My dad had wanted to be an architect since he was in high school… His father, a tribal leader, once said, ‘One day, our tribe will be in a position to rebuild and change our situation, and we are going to need architects and lawyers to do it,’” she explained in a 2017 AIA interview. “But when my father went to his non-Native counselor at school, the counselor said, ‘The best you can hope for is to be a teacher.’ So he became a teacher, and had a wonderful career, but he always regretted not becoming an architect.”

Since graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, Eagle Bull’s professional output has remained focused on positively enhancing Native American communities through the language of architecture. Envisioned as the embodiment of tribal sovereignty, the Gila River Indian Community Governance Center in central Arizona elegantly expresses strength and independence not only in its form, but through its incorporation of elements drawn from local cultures of the Pima and Maricopa peoples.

 

By embracing her status as role model and pioneer, Eagle Bull has laid the foundation for the next wave of Native American architects. She regularly speaks at graduation ceremonies and is often sought out by pre-kindergarten through high school–aged students for advice and mentorship. As an active member of the American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers, Eagle Bull has helped transition the organization from a small gathering of Native American firm owners to a nationwide network that welcomes architects and engineers at all career levels. As the council’s executive board secretary, she was instrumental in negotiating a partnership with the National Organization of Minority Architects. In 2018, Eagle Bull was selected for the Whitney Young Award.