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Better housing on American Indian lands will help spur economic development for tribes and lead to improved health and education for their members.
Roger Boyd, of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, spoke Tuesday to 400 people gathered at the sixth annual Native American Summit in Salt Lake City, hosted by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
The two-day gathering, which continues Wednesday, brings together tribal leaders and liaisons of local, state and federal agencies, as well as the private sector. It is aimed at improving communication and sharing information on issues related to health, education and employment, among other things.
Tribes can achieve greater housing success by partnering with the private sector and leveraging capital, said Boyd, deputy assistant secretary for Native American Programs. That leads to construction jobs and all of the benefits that come with them.
In turn, he said, better housing leads to less overcrowding and a healthier population. Beyond that, a good place to live helps students study and stay in school to earn diplomas.
But to succeed in housing development, tribes must create new, private institutions as they have with energy development to attract investors.
"Tribes need to create an environment where outsiders know what to expect, because investors don't know how to joint venture with tribal governments," Boyd said.
Mark Maryboy, a Utah Navajo, said the summit gives members of Utah's seven tribes a chance to share information and "to build a coalition to address economic development, health care, education and getting a better perspective on natural resources."
Each of Utah's tribes faces unique challenges, according to Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.
"The divergence of situations is quite stark," he said, contrasting the Northwest Band of the Shoshone, which is largely urban, to the Navajos in the south, which are spread across a vast expanse. The Utes in eastern Utah have energy resources, he added, but the Goshutes in the west and others do not.
"Every tribe is unique, but the challenges across the tribes, particularly education, are much the same," Bell said.
Jason Walker, chairman of the Shoshone tribal council, said the summit is useful because it introduces Indians to contacts in agencies that may provide grants or other opportunities.