WASHINGTON - Recently, the head of the National American Indian Housing Council briefed Congressional staffers on the dire need for infrastructure development to support Indian housing. That same week, a bill providing for billions of dollars in infrastructure money was sent to the House of Representatives for a vote.
The trouble for Natives is, the money is for Iraq.
President Bush's $87 billion supplemental funding request for the war in Iraq contains $18.6 billion to repair Iraq's battered infrastructure (down slightly from $20 billion after action by the Appropriations Committee, according to the New York Times).
According to NAIHC director Gary Gordon, there is a pressing need for infrastructure money to solve neglected areas in Indian country.
"Life on a reservation is not like everyday life for the vast majority of Americans who have access to safe, decent homes, paved roads, clean water, electricity and sewer facilities," he said.
"The basic fact is that when the rest of the west was hooked up to electrical, phone, water and sewer lines, Indian country was simply left out."
Gordon, former housing director for the Oneida Nation of New York, told the briefing that solving the infrastructure problems was "necessary to solving the housing shortage on tribal lands."
Gordon cited the following pressing infrastructure needs:
* 33 percent of tribal homes "lack adequate solid waste management systems.
* 23.4 percent of rural Native households "have no telephone service."
* 14.2 percent of homes "have no access to electricity."
* 8 percent of homes "still lack a safe indoor water supply, compared to 1 percent of all U.S. homes.
Gordon cited a case from the Fond du Lac reservation in Minnesota. He said a returning tribal member had to pay $25,000 for infrastructure in addition to his housing construction costs.
"His property is located on a major road on the reservation, but the electric lines didn't go there; instead they went to serve some lakeside homes owned by non-Indians about a half-mile away. So it cost this tribal member $10,000 to bring electricity to his home, plus another $15,000 for a septic system, a well, and phone service."
And he said Indian housing authorities were being forced to make a choice between diverting housing funds to build infrastructure, or build homes that have none. "Infrastructure demands and costs hold back other types of development and impede the progress of Native communities."
NAIHC recently held an infrastructure summit here and issued a report, which concluded "major sources of funding are 'insufficient to support infrastructure and housing.' Financial assistance is either in small amounts or has criteria that exclude most tribes from qualifying."
Other barriers found by the group include "unavailability of land, non-uniform building codes, difficult geology, socio-economics (such as extreme poverty), historical prejudices, not being federally recognized and poor relationships with local towns and governments."
Interestingly, the American Society of Civil Engineers has also noted a "crumbling" of infrastructure for the country as a whole.
Author Stephen Pizzo cited the report on TomPaine.com, saying ASCE is recommending a White House commission for the $1.6 trillion problem, which is said to be increasing $300 billion for every year of delay.