Providing homes on the reservation
Salish Kootenai Housing Authority marks its 50th year
By Alyssa Nenemay
SKHA employees helped plan and execute the day’s festivities. The group wore custom T-Shirts that were color coordinated to the department they serve. (Photo by Alyssa Nenemay)
PABLO — The Salish Kootenai Housing Authority (SKHA) commemorated 50 years of serving the Flathead Reservation with a celebratory luncheon. What began as a program managed under Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) staff has grown into a separate tribal organization that maintains six departments and manages nearly 700 properties throughout the reservation.
Salish Kootenai Housing Authority hosted a celebratory luncheon in honor of its 50-years in operation. (Photo by Alyssa Nenemay)
“I’m looking out at the staff today and I want to say that I am proud of all of you,” Salish elder Louie Adams said during his opening prayer. “You are all working to provide shelter for our future generations. We strive as a people because there is a tomorrow.”
The story of SKHA’s founding began with a critical housing need that plagued reservations throughout the U.S. The issue received little attention until 1961 when then President John .F. Kennedy visited the Oglala Lakota reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. At his request, Kennedy’s staff found that tribes qualified for general low-income federal funding for housing.
(L-R) SKHA Director Jason Adams joins his father Salish elder Louie Adams during a blanket honoring. Jason Adams has served as director for over 20 years and is an alternate on the National American Indian Housing Council. (Photo by Alyssa Nenemay)
In 1963, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal council adopted Ordinance 38-A, which established the SKHA program to manage federal funding the tribes received for housing. Headed by BIA staff, in its first year, the program aided in land trade agreements with the St. Ignatius Catholic Church and contracted to build 30 units throughout the reservation.
Since its founding SKHA has been established as a separate tribal organization under Ordinance 38-C. Managed by a seven-member board of commissioners, the program’s day-to-day operations are overseen by an executive director and six managers. With over 70 employees, SKHA’s services have expanded to include: providing adequate low rent housing, transitional housing, employment opportunities, housing related services, working with credit programs,
and assisting in home buying activities, to name a few.
Bob Gauthier is honored for his 20-year service as SKHA’s Executive Director. Gauthier played a role in the passing of the Native American Housing Self-Determination Act. (Photo by Alyssa Nenemay)
“I visit all the reservations in Montana and their housing doesn’t always look like ours,” said Montana’s Tribal Economic Development Program Manager Jason Smith. Smith is a CS&KT member who grew up on the Flathead Reservation. “Like many of us, I am a product of tribal housing. Housing provided a home for me and my son so I could be successful in school and I am thankful for that.”
Aside from providing local services, SKHA has been an advocate for tribal housing on a national scale. In 1996, Congress passed the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, which streamlined the government’s system of providing federal funding for housing to Native Americans. NAHASDA recognizes the tribes’ self-governance and provides a venue for tribes to be a part of the decision making process.
Montana’s Tribal Economic Development manager Jason Smith shared his upbringing in the Housing program. Smith is a CS&KT member who grew up on the Flathead Reservation. (Photo by Alyssa Nenemay)
20-year SKHA Director Bob Gauthier played a role in the passing of NAHASDA. As part of the initial negotiating committee, Gauthier joined several other tribal housing leaders to build a case for the unique housing needs of Indian Country.
“I didn’t always understand the spiritual part of my job. As director I focused more on the policies. The elders really relayed to me the roots and sacrifices our ancestors made that allowed us all to be here,” Gauthier said during his speech.
(L-R) Ignace Couture and Kenny Left Hand receive blankets in honor of their time served on the SKHA Board of Commissioners. Couture was one of SKHA’s first board members and Left Hand is still employed at SKHA as a site manager. (Photo by Alyssa Nenemay)
Current director Jason Adams said SKHA’s future would be focused on promoting home ownership. The program offers a free homeowner’s education course once a month, manages the Maggie Ashley Trailer Park, which provides rental lots for individuals who own trailers, and is completing a low income tax credit program that will provide home ownership opportunities for 20 families in the Felsman Edition.
Guests were treated to a picnic style luncheon that was catered by The Hangin’ Art Gallery. (Photo by Alyssa Nenemay)
“Our goal here at Housing has always been to serve the need of our customers in the most effective way. We’ll know we’ve done our job when we aren’t needed anymore. We have a lot of people who depend on us and we never lose sight of who we’re here to serve,” said Adams.
The golden anniversary celebration was planned and executed by SKHA staff and featured an honor song performed by local drum group Yamncut, a picnic style lunch catered by The Hangin’ Art Gallery, and several guest speakers including SKHA Executive Director Jason Adams, CS&KT chairman Joe Durglo, and former SKHA director Bob Gathier.
For more information on the program visit www.skha.org