'Trail of Hope' aims to bring message

2013-04-14T06:00:00Z 'Trail of Hope' aims to bring messageJoe O'Sullivan Journal staff Rapid City Journal
April 14, 2013 6:00 am  • 

KYLE | A mud-spattered heavy duty pickup hauled away one of the oldest houses on the Pine Ridge reservation on Saturday.

The two-bedroom home, a gray wooden box built in the 1960s during the Kennedy Administration, once was a home for 13 people. Now, it is headed to the nation's capital to showcase the housing troubles faced by Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Tribal officials say the reservation's ability to build new homes is suffering under federal budget cuts while their population is growing.

"We need 4,000 homes," said Paul Iron Cloud, chief executive officer of the tribe's housing authority. "We only have 1,100."

Iron Cloud, who spoke at a news conference shortly before the house's departure, said the display is meant to "show Congress what kind of substandard housing we live in.

"We had treaties with the United States government to provide for as long as the rivers flow and the grass grows," Iron Cloud declared. "Well, that never happened, and they took a lot of land away from us."

The tribe currently only has enough money to build about 10 houses per year. Last year, the tribe's housing authority budget was around $11.5 million, consisting entirely of federal money, according to Iron Cloud. This year, federal government cuts brought that down to $10 million.

In 2010, the population of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was about 19,000 people, according to Census data. But tribal officials believe that number substantially undercounts the number of people living on the reservation. Local estimates of the reservation's population is more than 40,000, according to Wilbur Between Lodges, spokesman for the Oglala Sioux Housing Authority.

"Probably jumped up more now," Between Lodges said Saturday. "It's growing quite a bit."

Between Lodges, who grew up in a house with a dirt floor and no plumbing, said the low census number affects the amount of housing dollars the tribe can receive. One reason people don't report the number of occupants in a house is because it would raise the rent, he said.

"You could pay quite a bit (in rent) if you list everybody," Between Lodges said.

But without homes for the reservation's growing younger generation, people find themselves with two or three generations living in a home, he said.

The house is actually part of the original home and has been reconfigured so it can be opened up in Washington as a walk-through display. Viewers will be able to go inside and witness its poor condition, as well as read testaments by Pine Ridge residents about their gritty living conditions.

It is scheduled to stop in Sioux Falls, Des Moines and Cleveland. After media stops along the way, it will sit on display outside for a day near the U.S. Capitol building. Sen. Tim Johnson is scheduled to speak at the display, according to Iron Cloud. Afterward, the house will be left in Washington, likely for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, according to Pinky Clifford, who was involved in planning and fundraising for the project.

The display will feature notes written by those who have to live in cramped conditions. One story, written by Rossell Never Miss A Shot, tells of her living in a three-bedroom home with her three daughters and their children.

"My home is shifting because of the dirt that it was built upon," the story reads. "It is very small for us and I would like something to be done to help get my home fixed up."

Reach reporter Joe O'Sullivan at 605-394-8414.

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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