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Reservation housing overdue for improvements

By Maxine Shapiro, KERA 90.1 business commentator

Dallas, TX – Out of sight, out of mind. No minority group can claim this position more than the Native American Indian. So in recognition of National American Indian Heritage Month, I would like to depict the current economic conditions, particularly housing, for some American tribes. I'm Maxine Shapiro with KERA Marketplace Middays.

First on a personal note, in the early 70's, I was a VISTA volunteer (like a domestic Peace Corps) stationed in Rapid City, South Dakota. Many visits to the Pine Ridge Indian reservation were required and I was able to experience firsthand the culture, the joy, the dilemma of living in that community.

The stats are a little better since the 70's, but not much. In 1999, the Bureau of Indian Affairs reported that American Indian and Alaska Native communities suffer an unemployment rate of 43%. The national average is less than 6%. According to a Washington Post article reprinted in today's Dallas Morning News, "one is six reservation homes is overcrowded, three times that of the national average. One in ten homes lacks plumbing, thirty-five times the norm. And the 2.5 million American Indians had the worst housing over any other ethnic group in the country, with only a handful being homeowners."

Some of you might be thinking right now, "Well, why don't they just leave the reservations?" So I ask you, what if you were told to leave your culture, your religious ties, your loving family (which means a lot to the American Indian), your heritage, leave all of that behind - and move? When I spoke with Raven Miller, spokesperson for the Native American Indian Housing Council, she expressed some optimism for future housing conditions on the reservations. Last month, an initiative was announced by President Bush to have at least 5.5 million more minority homeowners by the end of the decade. This better not have been political rhetoric. Ms. Miller believes that the reservations will be receiving some of that funding.

With home-ownership and equity comes a chance to build businesses. People need appliances and repairs and furniture - as a result, an economy grows. For KERA Marketplace Middays, I'm Maxine Shapiro.

Marketplace Midday Reports air on KERA 90.1 Monday - Friday at 1:04 p.m. To contact Maxine Shapiro, please send emails to mshapiro@kera.org.