Trail Of Hope For Indian Housing

Apr 17, 2013

The 50-year old house used on The Trail of Hope for Indian Housing.
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

Representatives of the Oglala Sioux tribe are in Washington, D.C. today on The Trail of Hope for Indian Housing. The 1500 mile journey saw a group of Lakota people haul portions of a dilapidated reservation home to the nation’s capital. Their goal is to bring attention to housing needs on the Pine Ridge Reservation and in other Native American communities across the state.Today we visit the village of Kyle to take a closer look at the realities of housing on the rez.

The sun is just starting to rise above the horizon as I make my way toward the Pine Ridge Reservation. It’s a crisp Saturday morning in early spring.

My destination is the village of Kyle, at the heart of the 3,000 square miles that comprise the Oglala Sioux Nation. I’m traveling to this remote location to learn about the poor housing conditions on the reservation – conditions that many have referred to as being reminiscent of a Third World country.

As I arrive, a group of tribal members is preparing to begin a journey to the nation’s capital to show the country’s leaders just how bad things are on Pine Ridge.

“Instead of them coming here, we’re going there,” Paul Iron Cloud explains.

Iron Cloud is the Chief Executive Officer for the Oglala Sioux tribe’s Housing Authority and spokesperson for The Trail of Hope for Indian Housing. The dozen Lakota people traveling that trail plan to bring portions of a dilapidated reservation home to Washington, D.C. and set it up in front of the US Capitol.

“This is one of the first houses built in Pine Ridge…1961,” says Iron Cloud. “We’re taking this house to Washington to actually show Congress that there is a problem.”

Iron Cloud says the problem is two-fold. First, there aren’t enough houses. And Second houses are over crowded.

Iron Cloud estimates a minimum of 4000 new houses are needed across the reservation. This massive shortage causes situations where multiple families live in the same dwelling. At times, as many as 18 people may be in a house intended for four or five and that excess wear and tear on the home causes it to literally begin to fall apart.

The solution, Iron Cloud explains, is money. But he says Congress continually fails to appropriate sufficient operating funds to the tribes.

“I just testified in Congress,” Iron Cloud says. “But you know, it’s a budget cut in Congress. We’re gonna’ lose ten-and-a-half million dollars this year. So, where’s that put us for the things we have to do?”

And though Iron Cloud realizes that everyone is being affected by the budget crunch, not everyone has the long-lasting agreement with the federal government that the Oglala Sioux and other tribes have. That agreement is called a treaty.

“And that treaty was forever.” Iron Cloud comments. “And they were supposed to take care of us. Of all the illegal land transactions over the years, you know, 1868…there’s a lot of treaties that were made…that as long as the river flows and the grass grows.”

Lakota spiritual leader Rick Two Dogs offers a prayer for those traveling to Washington – wishing them a safe trip and success in their request for housing assistance.

Two Dogs says it’s not the first time his people have made the journey toward the rising sun.

“My grandfather, American Horse, back in the 1800s, made the first journey to Washington to get better conditions for the Lakota people,” says Two Dogs. “So, this is something that we’ve been doing for a long time.”

As The Trail of Hope caravan pulls away, hauling the walls of a 50-year old house on a flatbed trailer, Donna Lamont takes me on a tour of Kyle.

“This area here was the first area I worked when I started working with the housing authority 3 years ago,” Lamont recalls.

Half of this duplex on the Pine Ridge Reservation houses a family of 4 in a 1 bedroom home.
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

Lamont is a Tenant Service Representative for the Housing Authority. Sitting in the warmth of her truck, she offers an overview on Pine Ridge housing options for the many thousands of Lakota who aren’t fortunate enough to own their own land and home.

“It’s a one-year lease,” Lamont explains of the housing authority’s agreement with tenants. “(It) has how much your rent’s going to be…what your responsibility as the tenant is and what our responsibility is as the housing authority. This was part of the older…they were also one of the first ones built. And they’re only one bedrooms. This is another example…for a one bedroom house I have a family of four living in a one-bedroom house. You would see broken tiles…missing tiles…you know, the windows need to be replaced. You know, if we had the money to do it we could remodel the whole unit.”

As I drive away from Kyle, “Our House” - a classic song about the American dream - plays on my car’s radio. It’s a nice idea, but an impossibility for most on the Pine Ridge Reservation – where there are no independent apartment complexes or houses for rent.

The only option is the Oglala Sioux Housing Authority – which is at least several thousand houses short of its needs.

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