Land sale leaves families homeless

By EMILY COLEMAN

Bismarck Tribune

  When Valerie Hill received an eviction notice in May, she didn’t know what to do.

She lived at Pelican Trailer Court in Fort Yates in one of six mobile homes on the property.

The owner had decided to sell the property so a dollar store could be built.

Of those that lived in the six homes, Hill said, two families had their homes moved but have no utilities.  The rest are homeless.

Hill and the other families turned to the Standing Rock tribal government for help.

“They told us they didn’t have any funds,” Hill said.

The families appealed to the economic committee and then to the tribal council, which granted them two extensions.

But despite the extensions, residents were forced to leave.

The owner of the mobile home she lived in sold it, and she was left homeless.

She moved to Bismarck and is living in a motel paid for in part by a disabled veterans organization.

Hill served in the Army for 10 years. She deployed to Kuwait during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

She is looking for a new place to live, one that she can afford on her fixed disabled veterans pension.

“Being Native, we don’t save like other people,” Hill said.

She said many of the poor people on the reservation are poor because they’re constantly giving, driving someone to a doctor’s appointment or helping someone else make ends meet.

Gwen Lone Wolf also is homeless from the sale.

The mobile home she lived in with her boyfriend, Michael Martin, is still sitting on the lot in Fort Yates surrounded by construction for the nearly complete dollar store.

The utilities have been turned off at the trailer court so she moved in with her daughter at the United Tribes Technical College.

Lone Wolf has not been completely without help.

The tribe leased her a five-acre plot on which to live.  The problem is no one seems able to get her mobile home there.

Lone Wolf said the home was too long and heavy and the hitch connected at a bad angle making it nearly impossible to move.

Another resident of Pelican Trailer Court had her home successfully moved to the land the tribe gave her, but she can’t afford to have the gas and water hooked up, Lone Wolf said.

“We applied for everything we could think of,” Lone Wolf said.

Martin is commuting to Fargo to work in construction to earn extra money.

The logistics with moving the mobile home and the cost have made resolving the issue difficult.

But Hill argues that the money is there, just being spent on others.

Hill said another woman in Fort Yates had gotten her unoccupied mobile home moved for $6,000.  She said that would have covered moving all six homes at Pelican Court.

Standing Rock Vice Chairman Mike Faith did not respond to multiple requests for an interview last week and Monday. The Tribune reached Faith on the phone once and he promised to return the call. He didn’t.

“Our tribe seems to make our people homeless as opposed to helping us,” Hill said.  “To me, it’s really our tribal government that doesn’t help the people, yet they get funds from the federal government.”

She said the tribe is always asking for help but not using the funds it receives to give help. She said if the tribe assisted them, they would have been able to keep their home.

“They should just cut off all the funding to the Standing Rock reservation and force us to live like this, like in Bismarck,” Hill said.

Lone Wolf said she had been told it would cost $1,200 to move the mobile home four miles to the new plot.

“It’s the only home we’ve had,” she said.  “It leaks.  There’s a lot of things wrong with it, but it’s the only thing we have.”

Lone Wolf said they might have to put their dog, Neha, to sleep because they can’t keep it at her daughter’s.

Lone Wolf, who has applied to receive disability checks, has a bachelor of science in tribal land management and environmental science and a master’s in management.  She said she has applied for more  than 30 jobs but is still unemployed.

The unemployment rate on the reservation is 79 percent.

When asked what they are going to do next, both women just shrugged.

Hill is torn.  She is thinking of staying in Bismarck because she is frustrated by the aid system on the reservation.  But she said she would someday like to be “back on my own land.”

Lone Wolf wants to find a way to move the mobile home to the new plot of land.  She’s frustrated by the lack of progress for her own situation despite the help that has been given to others.

“A lot of it is who you know,” she said.  “They play a lot.  It’s bad politics.”

(Reach reporter Emily Coleman at 250-8256 or emily.coleman@bismarcktribune.com.)

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