Bill Clinton photo

Remarks in a Discussion at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota

July 07, 1999

[The discussion is joined in progress.]

President Harold D. Salway. But we're durable people, have a lot of pride, have a lot of dignity.

President Clinton. How do you stay warm in the winter?

President Salway. Well, we're conditioned. We're conditioned—a lot of buffalo robes, a lot of good, hard work, too. This is how a lot of people live, though. This is about the average conditions of most homes throughout the reservation, and some are really bad yet.

President Clinton. Would you say the biggest immediate need you have is for better housing?

President Salway. Housing and what new markets is going to do, create jobs. Not enough people working here on Pine Ridge, so that causes a lot of potential impacts.

President Clinton. If there were jobs in the near vicinity, some sort of small manufacturing or something like that, do you think all the people who could work would do so?

President Salway. Yes. We have one of the highest unemployment rates for—a lot of people going to work, being more responsible with their time would uplift the lives of the entire family in a lot of ways.

President Clinton. Where's your tribal college?

President Salway. Probably about 40 miles northeast of here, toward the center part of our reservation. Our reservation is about 135 by 84, 85, thereabouts. A pretty large reservation.

President Clinton. How close do the jobs have to be in order not to be too burdensome to go to and from work?

President Salway. We don't have a transportation system, so most people have to carpool into Pine Ridge. Pine Ridge is kind of like the capital of the reservation, if you will. Most people transporting in and out, transit to come to work from IGS and BIA and tribal government. That's the greatest portion of employment. Not too much microenterprises for development.

Housing is one of the largest employers on the reservation. But the need is so high that it naturally is one of the higher employment areas.

President Clinton. Andrew, why don't you just say what we've been talking about, say what you were saying about the housing.

Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo. As the President was saying, one of the greatest needs is housing, just provide the basic living conditions where people can improve themselves. And then homeownership—very little homeownership on the reservation—and homeownership, given the conversation we've had this past week, is really the first access to capital strategy, when you think about it. Because when you own and you have equity in your home, then you can start to get loans, you can start to get financing and start to get credit to open a business or pay a tuition, whatever you'd like to do.

So our efforts are, first, try to improve as much housing as we can. We're doing that through the Housing Authority. We've set up a not-for-profit with the reservation for the first time so the tribe can do business as a tribe and also as a not-for-profit organization.

And then, homeownership, homeownership, homeownership. The people who are at the conference today—I was telling the President the numbers are up to about 800 people from across the country who come to this housing conference, 100 tribal presidents. And we have the mainstream homeownership, housing bankers who come to the conference, and we're going to start, for the first time ever, in a big way, homeownership on the reservation linked to economic development, because it's also an empowerment zone. We're going to sign officially the papers at the next event.

So we have the empowerment zone doing the economic development piece and housing and the homeownership with the private mortgage market coming forward.

President Clinton. Frank?

Franklin D. Raines. Well, we're trying very hard to bring private capital into the reservation. It's been a—working with this reservation, now signing an agreement with one of our major lenders and with the tribe to cut through a lot of the legal problems that lending—when you've got trust lands involved. And we think we can make progress there.

We think that it's important that, in addition to the HUD programs that are so important, that we also get mainstream lenders in the conventional lending here. We've done a fair amount. We've bought about 70 percent of the HUD loans that were made—Fannie Mae has financed on this reservation. But we're going to be committing not only to purchase new housing but $3 million of venture capital funds to encourage production of housing on this reservation. All this is part of a $500 million initiative that Senator Daschle and Senator Johnson and I announced yesterday. That's covering the whole State, but there is a portion that is going to be just here, and we're intentionally keeping it, without us saying exactly where it's going to go.

We're going to work with the tribal government to ensure that we can either put it in a multifamily or single-family or combinations of housing and retail that will make it possible to bring more and more private capital onto the reservation.

Housing is the one part of the private capital system that is really working in full speed and is available to come into the toughest areas. It's harder to get funding for businesses and things, but we could do for housing.

President Clinton. Let me ask you something. A lot of the people here, you said, have more than one family in the home. Now, if they had the choice, would you prefer a single-family home for every family that was more modern, or more modern but larger where you could have—more than one family could live together, but they'd have enough room to have their own rooms. Which would be preferable?

President Salway. Probably single-family homes because all the families crunched into one house causes a lot of other——

President Clinton. Problems.

President Salway. ——problems. Yes. Social situations.

Geraldine Blue Bird. Mr. President, with regards to that, my house, the square footage of this is really short for the amount of people that I have here. So, with all my kids and my grandkids, when it comes to the living room area here, they're just stepping on them and bumping into them. And my—Philip is in a wheelchair, and he wants to have room, and then I have a stool sitting in the center—short footage area. And places like this are small.

President Clinton. How many people live in here with you?

Ms. Blue Bird. In this house, there are 11. And in this house—between the two houses, there's 28. You met part of them here.

President Clinton. So you have 11 living in here and 17 in the other place.

Ms. Blue Bird. About like that. Yes. Because I've got them sleeping in here in the living room, I've got bunks in there. Between these two areas here, I have five bedrooms.

President Clinton. And 28 people sleep?

Ms. Blue Bird. And I have five bedrooms. So this is what I'm talking about. What you said, with that many people in a small area, that does cause problems, like here. My own personal opinion is I'd like to see us get jobs, because really to have—to get one of the homes that are coming up, you need to have an income. But right now we're living on—well, here on this street, I can safely say about 85 percent of us, here on this street alone, are living on Social Security, SSI, and welfare. That's one income once a month. And that's what we use.

My boys, as you have seen, have applied for jobs. They have applications all over. I've even got one boy that went to the service. We've been using his veteran's benefits. It's hard to get a job here because there isn't one. When you get a job here, you hang onto it, because you get an income. Money every 2 weeks is better than money once a month.

President Salway. And that causes problems. Everybody struggles for those very, very minimum jobs you have. So it causes a lot of conflicts.

President Clinton. Over the jobs?

President Salway. Over the jobs. So few.

NOTE: The discussion began at approximately 10 a.m. outside the home of Geraldine Blue Bird during a walking tour of the Igloo Housing neighborhood. The discussion participants included President Harold D. Salway of the Oglala Sioux Tribe; and Franklin D. Raines, chairman and chief executive officer, Fannie Mae. Pine Ridge Indian Reservation resident Geraldine Blue Bird referred to her father, Philip Brings Him Back. The Office of the Press Secretary also released a partial transcript of this discussion. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this discussion.

William J. Clinton, Remarks in a Discussion at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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