03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

America Needs Another Fair Housing Summit to Abolish Financial Apartheid

"I have a passion for social justice, and a lifelong commitment to the principle of equality. In Montana, the principles of fair housing with the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, were slow in coming. By the late 1980s, Montana was one of a few remaining states lax in fair housing protections. We started out as a small organization, the Council for Concerned Citizens, in the south side of Gt. Falls, to work on housing justice."

This nation is due for another summit on national fair housing. The voices missing from the realm of discourse on the subprime debacle are those very people who have been affected by it.

In my earlier years, I worked in fair housing, first as a volunteer and then as a board member and staffer of the Concerned Citizens Coalition (CCC). Under the leadership of Mark Good, the CCC embraced a controversial enforcement method called "fair housing testing." The method involved a white "tester" and a Native American "tester" applying for the same housing unit, after which, their results were compared. The findings were pretty astounding.

In 57% of the tests conducted, Native Americans were discriminated against by housing providers. This is an extraordinarily high rate, far above the national average. Findings indicated that Native Americans experience discrimination more frequently than any other ethnic or racial group in America.

Good and Incomplete Intentions for Naught

As a result, the CCC requested HUD funds pursuant to the FHIP program. It took several years, but eventually the funds made their way to Great Falls. By then, the CCC had experienced a gradual change in leadership. I had been hired as an Education and Outreach Coordinator and I executed the program in its first year.

What was significant about this time, in early 1994, mid-way through the first Clinton term, HUD sponsored a Fair Housing Summit in DC. I attended this and served as a panelist at the summit. I spoke on the very issue I had written about many times before: Hill 57.

Hill 57 is a timeless issue that never seems to improve. It has never been addressed and it is always forgotten. I mention this instance because it is significant to now. There was a lot of optimism in America-buoyed by the Clinton presidency, just as there had been this time last year.

It looked like things would be different back then and that real changes would be made. I see this general timeframe of 1994 as a renewal in America's commitment for social justice. Maybe some things changed, but upon reflection, I cannot help but think there was a Clinton dogma put in place in this nation's financial system with the clamour around the CRA, which was intended to provide fair access to credit. Instead, what became entrenched in this era, as far as I can see -- was the subprime market. This marked the retrenchment of a newer, more virulent "separate-and-unequal" financial system in America.

We must look at a general timeframe when the Federal Reserve failed to regulate lenders; paving the way for predatory lending. This became a significant issue toward 1998; the Federal Reserve initiated a quiet policy that ignored blatant discrimination by banks who charged higher interest rates to minorities. To put it bluntly, President Clinton either did not care or could not care; he was busy denying that he spent a good deal of time in November of 1995 masturbating Monica Lewinsky with cigars. This was an opportunity lost, it looks as though we are repeating a failed pattern, once again.

Financial apartheid; one market for the haves -- mostly whites, and a secondary market for the have-nots; mostly minority. This only rooted and became a system of extremes under the two Bush terms. The secondary market by 2008 that consisted of home mortgages that were higher than the value of the home, and adjustable teaser rates that left the homeowner unable to pay their mortgage. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were major players in this system. The objectives may have been good, but the effort misguided. Whether this was intentional or just was not well thought out by the Clinton administration, remains to be seen.

Even though the official record of numbers goes back a couple of years, the trending in federal policy, or the lack thereof, predates the actual meltdown by several years. And we can see this taking root back to the Clinton administration. Matt Taibbi, in Obama's Big Sellout, (Rolling Stone) details how Obama's Team of Rubinites, leftover from the Clinton administration have hijacked the Obama White House.

The Montana progressive, native urban/reservation, women, youth, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, all have a stake in this issue at the state level. Fair housing efforts must be resurrected in Montana; there is a need for protection on a state level, as well as the strengthening of Title 49, the Montana Human Rights Act. The Montana Legislature at some point in the past; watered down the state civil rights law, Title 49, resulting in loss of HUD funding at the state level. Neither the Schweitzer administration, nor the state legislature has reversed this. It is time to put the pressure on.

I cannot stress enough, of the need of the Indian voting electorate to stay engaged in the process; especially in off-election years. This tends to be when politicians think the voters are not looking; this is when the damage is done. One only needs to look at the mess that is the stimulus bill, now the health care bill. We can point to the Cobell settlement, and the undue influence of John Echohawk in particular. This man is in the hazing phase as a flegdling member of the Team of Rubinites, he is a wannabe limo liberal who was part of the Obama transition team. His brother, Larry Echohawk, is now BIA Assistant Secretary. I am amazed Indian Country has not scrutinized the settlement in greater detail.

The Cobell settlement is outrageously low, about 3.5 billion (in legal terms, outrageous has added weight, meaning conduct so bad as to be unconscionable to the normal reasonable person). This is a direct result of the Indian community treating the Obama administration with kid gloves. This settlement is a swindle, the settlement calls for 2.4 billion for "land consolidation" it will result in landlessness of the average tribal member. Again, at the bargain basement price of 2.4 billion, this is chump change in comparison to the TARP bailouts and the stimulus.

In summary, it matters if you are a white person, this past year was the great recession of 2009. Your 401(k) tanked, your stock portfolio has taken a temporary hit, your credit is or near maxed out. You will recover, the stock market is steadily buoyed. The week after passage of the Senate health bill, health insurance stocks ran up 52% in one day.

But if you are a minority, this is in fact the Great Depression of 2008-2009 and counting. Unemployment, even in major metropolitan black communities such as Detroit -- tops 50%. The state of Montana does not quantify urban Indian unemployment, there is no way to tell for sure, there is no official estimate. Times are tough, it has been a couple of years tallying now, in urban areas people had been selling scrap metal to stay alive. Then the recyling business hit with high gas prices in the summer of 2008, cut back -- scrap metal stockpiled.

The people at the bottom of the ladder were hit, no one could even sell their scrap metal. People donate their plasma to Bio-Life in urban areas to put gas in their tanks, buy food, and try to survive. This has become daily life and reality for urban Indians dating back to the early years of th second Bush term. This, like the health care bill, which puts profits over lives, has a strange Orwellian feel of the commodification of human life. It is scary and creepy. The help for urban Indians was needed several years ago. It still has not arrived.

Child and youth poverty are back to levels prior to President Johnson's War on Poverty. This is another failed legacy of the Clinton presidency. The Personal Work and Responsibility Act of 1996 cut welfare that was already annililating the poor, minority household. The Act time-limited life time benefits to five years -- for many people who never had an economic lifeline, or was cut by the Clinton administarion that constantly was dogged by a Republican Congress -- their lifeline ran out long ago. Welfare laws dictated that the poor and minority households MUST be headed by a single, female. This destructive policy has damaged the culture and fabric of Indian families. America's poor and urban minorities need policies that empower and lift them, as opposed to policies that entrap them.

I urge the Indian communities, do not wait for anyone to throw you a lifeline. Organize yourselves and take action, be the change you seek, hold our local governments accountable, vote in any and all elections that come up. Run for office yourselves. We need leadership at all levels. If something is not right, take the time to voice your opinion. Organize for the Durbin - Dorgan Jobs Bill -- the time to do it is NOW.

Read more of the urban Indian experience in both the U.S. and Canada at

Melinda Gopher is a paralegal, writer and Candidate for the U.S. Congress. Her philosophy is to democratize the law, so that the ordinary person can understand it. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Urban Native Magazine.