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Bob Gauthier honored for lifetime of leadership

by CSKT Executive Communications
| March 28, 2024 12:00 AM

During the annual meeting of the United Native American Housing Association (UNAHA), held March 25 in Denver, CSKT tribal member Bob Gauthier was honored for his lifetime of achievements regarding Native American housing throughout Indian Country.

“The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are proud to be part of honoring Mr. Gauthier,” said CSKT Council Chairman Michael Dolson. “Our Tribes, and all of Indian Country, have benefitted greatly from his work and legacy over the course of his life, and this tribute to Bob and his work are well-deserved.”

In 1983, Gauthier was hired as the Salish and Kootenai Housing Authority (SKHA) executive director, and quickly made significant changes to the development and operation of the organization.

Bob’s philosophy of, “If it doesn’t say you can’t do it, it means you can,” began as he took the torch and continued until he passed it on to his successor, Jason Adams, in 2003.

During his 20 years at the helm of SKHA, Gauthier participated in, and led, improvements for housing needs on the Flathead Reservation, including the construction of more than 300 new housing units; building a high-quality maintenance department at SKHA; increasing SKHA staff from about 10 to 80; designing and building three new SKHA offices; and successfully applying for, and building, 40 Family Self-Sufficiency units for Salish Kootenai College.

In 1985, under a CSKT tribal reorganization effort, Gauthier led the process of blending the Housing Improvement Program, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and Indian Sanitation Facilities Act funding together, in addition to bringing all the CSKT Community Water and Wastewater Systems under SKHA management.

Over the years, one aspect of his enduring leadership has been his efforts to support and mentor up-and-coming housing leaders. That included his SKHA management team of Carolyn Weivoda, Ron Trahan, Carrie Irvine, Al Sloan, Jason Adams and Ruby Vanderburg.

All became Certified Indian Housing Managers, and Gauthier is the first to declare that most of the successes that occurred during his time at SKHA would not have happened without them.

Additional highlights from his time at SKHA include applying for and building the Felsman Addition. The first-in-the-nation rent-to-own Low-Income Housing Tax Credit project consisted of 20 single-family homes. Twenty more rent-to-own units were built for Ktunaxa Community Development Corporation in Elmo.

He also worked with funding sources to install a radio telemetry program to assist Community Water and Wastewater Systems in an effort to improve services to tribal members while lowering costs.

Gauthier spearheaded many firsts for CSKT as well, creating Flathead Finance Program, the first home-ownership program in HUD Region Eight. As the CSKT Economic Development Director from 2003 through 2006, he was an integral part of the tribal committee that founded Eagle Bank. He served as the bank’s first board chair and held that position for six years, helping build the financial institution which now holds $133 million in assets.

The national stage

Gauthier also impacting housing on a national level. He was part of a team in 1985 that blended Northern Plains Housing Association and the Dakota Territories Housing Association into the United Native American Housing Association (UNAHA). He served as the organization’s first chairman and is currently its administrator.

Gauthier is a committee member of the National American Indian Housing Council that created AMERIND, and was appointed by HUD to the Secretary’s Committee that produced regulations for the 1937 Housing Act, including the Mutual Help Program of 1988.

He’s served on various other notable committees, serving as chairman of the Title II Affordable Housing Committee of the Negotiated Rule Making Committee in 1998; and as a member of the Seattle Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the National CDFI Advisory Board for the U.S. Treasury, and on the Montana Board of Housing from 2003- 2019.

One of the most important aspects of Gauthier’s legacy is his 1992 appointment to the National Commission on American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Housing, where he served as chairman, and then issued a report to the United States Congress titled A Blueprint for Change. The report contains 50 critical recommendations to improve housing for Native Americans, and it became the core of the new Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination act of 1996.

With this act, across Indian Country, tribes have finally been able to exercise self-determination in ways that are more beneficial and aligned for Indigenous communities across the nation, especially here at home on the Flathead Reservation.

“At CSKT, we are proud of Bob, and appreciate the effort and trailblazing he executed for our Tribes and for all of Indian Country,” said Dolson. “We know that without his leadership, the critical need for housing in many tribal communities across America would not be as healthy or meaningful. We congratulate Bob for this acknowledgement of a lifetime of hard work and dedication to the needs of so many.”

One other important enterprise that many in the community remember fondly is the Gauthier Steak and Seafood Restaurant in Polson, which Bob helped lead as part of a family business.

“I remember Bob saying that one thing you could count on if you were privileged enough to dine at Gauthier’s Steak and Seafood, was that they had very good soup,” said Dolson. “Every time I ate at his family’s restaurant, the service and the food were always excellent – another tribute to Bob and his family and how they provided so much for our community over the years.”