NEW TOWN, N.D. – American Indians are often a forgotten population in Washington, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Wednesday.
Heitkamp, D.-N.D., told members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation she is working to elevate issues from reservations, with a particular focus on addressing the housing crisis.
Although many North Dakota communities say their No. 1 issue is housing, the housing shortage is more pronounced on American Indian reservations, she said.
“You are probably extreme in your housing difficulties,” Heitkamp said during a meeting with tribal elders.
On the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which Heitkamp toured Wednesday, it’s common for three or four generations to live in the same house, Heitkamp said. Often those residents are making good salaries, but they’re forced to live in cramped conditions because there is no other option, she said.
Representatives of Fort Berthold Housing Authority told Heitkamp their stock of housing is from the late 1960s and early 1970s with infrastructure that is failing.
“People cannot live like this,” Heitkamp said.
Heitkamp said her visit to Williston earlier this week attracted several housing developers, but they weren’t interested in talking to her about developing housing on the reservation. She said she wants to work to identify impediments to private investment on the reservations.
Reba White Shirt-Bruce, who attended a meeting with Heitkamp, suggested that North Dakota recruit out-of-work architects and housing developers from other parts of the country to build housing on the reservation.
One challenge to solving the housing crisis is that many federal programs are based on rental prices and wages rates that are too low for western North Dakota, Heitkamp said.
Heitkamp said she is positioned to bring the unique housing issues to Washington through her appointments on the Indian Affairs Committee and the Banking, Housing and Urban Development Committee in the Senate.
Heitkamp is scheduled to be in Valley City today and Fargo on Friday.