The Power is Now

Rethinking Native American Heritage Month Property Rights

Homeownership Program

America- the land of the free and the home of the brave!

It’s a vast, diverse land with so many cultures dating back thousands of years to the land’s original inhabitants- the native Americans.

Their contributions to the development of this country are recognized during November formally as the Native American Heritage Month. President George H. W. Bush declared the month in 1990 in a bill that read in part that the “the President has authorized and requested to call upon Federal, State, and Local Governments, groups, and organizations and the people of the United States to observe such month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”

This was a significant step in honoring America’s tribal people and showed a renewed commitment towards establishing this celebration which had begun some 14 years ago when a Cherokee/Osage Indian named Jerry C. Elliott-High Eagle founded the Native American Awareness week legislation. This was the first historical week of recognition for the Native Americans.

In 1986, President Reagan proclaimed November 23-30, 1986, as the “American Indian Week.”

The Native American Heritage Month offers us a unique opportunity to celebrate the rich and diverse culture of the Native Americans. It gives us a chance to look into their traditions and histories to understand their way of living and acknowledge the significant contributions they have made.

I love cultural months as they give us an opportune time to educate ourselves about the tribes and raise general awareness of these communities’ challenges. This way, we can all channel our energy to look for ways through which these communities can be helped.

Native Americans in real Estate

It’s bad!

Native Americans have fought for their rights to own back their land but to no avail. In 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Native Americans in the case Johnson v. M’Intosh, urging that it “recognized the superior power of the federal government to acquire lands from Indians.” The case began when non-Natives asserted possession over the same lot of land. One of the individuals had acquired the land from the tribes themselves, while the other had received it from the federal government.

This is one of the incidents that set a precedent for the government seizure of the Native Land.

Today, the 5.2 million Natives in the country are some of the most impoverished ethnic groups- almost twice the national average. Unfortunately, there are a lot of consequences from this deprivation, including high crime rates, high rates of suicide, alcoholism, increased gang membership, and sexual abuse. In fact, suicide has been cited as the second leading cause of death among the Natives aged 10 to 34.

And let’s talk about these problems for a minute. Alcohol abuse and its effects are more prevalent in Native youths than any other ethnic group in the country regarding alcohol abuse. Regarding gang involvement and membership, these too are more common in Native Americans than among Latinos and African Americans. Cases of sexual abuse are more common among the Native American women who, by the way, report being raped two–and–a–half times as often as the national average. It doesn’t end there! Cases of child abuse among the Natives are twice as high as the national average. However, what’s surprising is that these cases are more pronounced among the natives who live on reservations.

The economic deprivation of the Natives results from the long history of violations against them and forced assimilation, war, and mass murder. In addition, it is a direct consequence of the federal government’s current policies, especially the restrictions on Natives’ property rights.

Going by data from 2019, the homeownership rate for the Indians or Alaska Natives was 50.8%, much lower than 73.3% of the non-Hispanic Whites. Despite the many protection measures, many Natives continue to experience hardships, consequently affecting their home buying capacity.

Natives on Reservation Cannot Build Equity.

Most Natives live on Reservation, and reservation land is held ‘in trust for the Indians by the federal government. Initially, this move was intended to keep the Indians contained in certain places, but over time, the agenda has changed to preserving these lands for the indigenous people.

The consequences are very much the same- Natives cannot own the land.

Therefore, they are incapacitated to build Equity, which means they are being robbed of an opportunity to reap the numerous benefits of homeownership in the long run.

What the government is doing is trying to micromanage these communities living on the reservations by sending checks. According to a report by the Cato Institute, Federal funding for the agencies charged with overseeing activities of Natives on reservations (Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, and the Bureau of Indian Education, or BIE) was almost $3 billion in 2012. In addition, about $850 million went to BIE to provide education to approximately 42,000 students even though most students on reservation land do not attend the BIE Schools. This means that each Native child gets about $20,000 compared to the national average of $12,400.

The Federal government isn’t the only one offering subsidy programs for the Natives. Many other agencies offer these subsidies, including the Indian Health Service, which set a budget of over $4.6 billion in 2015. Additionally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Native American Housing Block Grant Program has a 2015 budget of $650 million. Still, while checks from the government have increased in recent years, the problems in the Reservation have become worse.

One other challenge that many Natives face is in the lending space, where many lenders are not comfortable lending on Native American trust land primarily because most of it is on Reservation.

Still, it is important to understand that while providing easier access to homeownership will make it easier for the Natives in reservations, it doesn’t mean that all barriers to homeownership have been eradicated. Natives too have the right to more affordable housing options such as manufactured homes. A good number of homes on the tribal lands are already manufactured, and directing homeownership financing options towards manufactured housing would help bolster the homeownership rates in reservations. Speaking of houses and developments in reservations, the Apsaalooke Warrior Apartments were the first development project on the Reservation in a decade and wouldn’t have been possible were donations from the federal, state, and private stakeholders. Since the development was for the Crow Tribe, its leadership said it owed G+HUD about $3 million. In the 1990s, HUD built most of the homes on the Reservation, and the tribal leadership promised to be making small monthly payments to repay the debt. The tribe was supposed to be making payments between $20 and $30 a month.

Since the tribe members refused to pay, the situation on the ground is getting worse by the day. HUD has stalled constructions saying that the tribe must pay its debt first. Therefore, currently, homes aren’t being built, and no repairs either; instead, people are moving into smaller trailer homes. This, therefore, means that many adults aged 18-40 don’t have any houses.

But, the Crow tribe has no choice-literally. Actually, no one in the reservation lands has a choice simply because they cannot afford a home or build one, which is because of the lender problem I highlighted above. It’s a cycle. The lender doesn’t want to lend to people who don’t actually own lands or land that is communal. The government is the source of this problem. No bank will foreclose a property because the bank can’t own the reservation land. The Bureau of Indian Affairs determines the determination of the fair market value for a piece of property.

Still, even though the government is to blame for what is happening in the Native communities in terms of stalled development, we cannot ignore that Natives, too, have been their own worst enemies. Some hold the belief that too much development will be detrimental to their traditions and culture. For example, Winfield Russell of the Northern Cheyenne tribal council said he worries that the development of the land “will undermine or destroy Native culture.” He argues that there is a strong connection between untouched land and the tribe’s spiritual values. And unlike so many other tribes, he says, “we’re still strong here as far as our ceremonial culture and spirit on the reservation. We still have our covenant here.”

Let’s Talk Liberation of Natives- Property rights

Certain reforms have been promoted before, including a stricter ban on the development of natural resources on the Indian land, greater sensitivity towards the Native Culture, and changing football-team names.

Well, all these things are positive, we like them… but do you think they are a primary concern for the natives?

And yes, some of these issues affect youngsters but remember these are people born in poverty, most living with one or no parent. In addition, these are kids exposed to almost all kinds of drugs. When you combine all these factors with the fact that most have few educational options and little hope of employment, it seems ignorant, if not offensive, that they would focus solely on the names of sports teams.

These are just minor issues, if not distractions, to keep Natives and other people from knowing the real truth.

Which is natives’ need is real property rights.

And this is not a dream or something too unrealistic. Some tribes in Canada are already pursuing the First Nations Property Ownership Act, which would effectively create a framework for individual First Nations members to access capital through secure property rights.

And this is a good thing because;

Individuals of all races would buy and sell the land among themselves without having oversight from the tribal or federal officials. The legislation will help these reserved land become more like cities, and the underlying title would be turned over to a governing entity, and even if the land is sold, it will remain part of that city. This would raise a truly free market. Indeed, First Nations members who want to lease their land would do so without having to seek approval from anybody. Those First Nation Members willing to sell their land would do so freely by selling it to the highest bidder regardless of the race. Natives who don’t want to sell their homes can keep them and borrow against them.

Such are the reforms that need to be promoted in the United States. But, it is also important to mention that whether this works or not remains a legal question that might be complicated. But it shows a step in the right direction.

This November, during the Native American Heritage month, let’s look at the ways to forge a pathway to economic prosperity and community development in the Indian country. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before the Natives are guaranteed fair housing opportunities. But, The Power is Now Media is at the forefront of this fight, ensuring that every minority community member has a fair chance.

About The Power Is Now Media

The Power Is Now Media is an online multimedia company founded in 2009 by Eric L. Frazier, MBA, headquartered in Riverside, California. We advocate for homeownership, wealth building, and financial literacy for low to moderate-income and minority communities.  The Power Is Now Media corporate office is located at 3739 6th Street Riverside, CA 92501. Ph: 800-401-8994 Website: www.thepowerisnow.com.

Sources:
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/native-americans-property-rights/492941/
https://www.millionacres.com/real-estate-investing/articles/how-native-americans-are-investing-in-real-estate/
https://www.ncai.org/initiatives/native-american-heritage-month
https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_Indian_Heritage_Month
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/nris-in-news/indian-american-real-estate-executive-sandeep-mathrani-might-join-donald-trump-admin-meets-president-elect/articleshow/55679308.cms
https://prosperitynow.org/blog/securing-homeownership-native-americans
https://housingmatters.urban.org/articles/tribes-are-using-creative-place-based-solutions-increase-homeownership-options
https://usafacts.org/articles/homeownership-rates-by-race/
https://virginiarealtors.org/2020/11/12/native-american-homeownership/

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