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AUGUST 21, 2017

As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation. 

Good afternoon! It's a great honor to be invited to speak at your conference today.

I'd particularly like to thank Jason Adams and UNAHA for organizing and Chairman Vernon Finley for hosting us.

Montana is a land of great beauty, filled with amazing people. It's no wonder we call it the Treasure State: these natural wonders and open hearts should be treasured by our whole nation.

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, our mission is to ensure that all Americans have access to safe and affordable housing.

We serve men, women, and children from New York to North Dakota, from Florida to Alaska, of all backgrounds.

But we also have a special responsibility to those peoples who were here before all others, who govern themselves on their tribal lands, preserving their rich heritage and culture.

That is the particular focus of our Office of Native American Programs, whose talented Deputy Assistant Secretary, Heidi Frechette, is with us today. She's a great "brain trust" at HUD, and deeply committed to our mission of service.

The goal of this Office is to ensure that low-to-middle income Native American families enjoy the same healthy, affordable housing that HUD's other programs provide across the nation, promoting economic growth and opportunities, while preserving tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

We have some good reasons to be optimistic about achieving our mission these days.

In the last 10 years, homelessness has decreased by 100,000 Americans.

Nationally, unemployment is hovering around 4.4 percent, the lowest it's been in a decade. Since January, our nation has gained 1 million jobs.

And the economy as a whole is doing much better than previous years. This is good for our businesses, the people they employ, and the families who depend on those workers.

We have a moral duty to make sure that this prosperity reaches all Americans, including those in Indian country, and especially the poor and the vulnerable.

There are a lot of people who need our help. In a study released a few months ago, HUD found that 68,000 new affordable housing units are required to replace old and unsafe dwellings, and to sufficiently serve those in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

It is clear that the first Americans are among the first we are called to serve.

In addition, there are too many neighborhoods across our country-inside of tribal lands and out-which are caught in the terrible grip of addiction to opioids and other drugs.

As a doctor, few things break my heart more than to hear of families torn down and torn apart by substances which damage bodies and minds.

A couple of years ago, as I'm sure you know, it was reported that over half of affordable housing units at the Flathead Indian Reservation were testing positive for meth use-and for health reasons, they had to be stripped down and rebuilt at great expense.

The first thing I think of, in cases like this, is not the unfortunate drain on resources, or that we need to be more vigilant about drug use in affordable housing, although these are very important issues.

The first thing I think of is what caused these individuals to lose hope, and how we can lift them up so that drugs are not a more tempting alternative to living one's own life.

I know President Trump agrees: that's why he's called opioids a national emergency just several days ago. I look forward to working with him and other agency heads to tackle this tough problem, especially as it intersects with housing issues.

Of course, this question goes beyond housing, and means building a strong, generous, and prosperous civil society.

It means working across federal agencies, state and local authorities, tribal leaders, and public/private partnerships to ensure that jobs are available to all who are able to work, so that dignity and self-sufficiency can return to the areas that most need them.

It means eliminating burdensome regulations and unreasonable limits on land use that keep tribes from prosperity and self-sufficiency, preventing them from developing their own property as they like.

And it means ensuring that every community has access to good healthcare and choice in education. For we cannot simply put a roof over someone's head, while ignoring the needs of their body and mind.

While doing so, the federal government must respect the self-government or sovereignty of tribal lands. Our assistance and cooperation must never be used as an underhanded way to control Native American communities, any more than it should be used to bully the States and their elected representatives.

We must follow the principle of subsidiarity: that the smallest unit of governance capable of managing its own affairs be allowed to do so.

In the last several months traveling around this great country, I've seen that some of the best solutions for our society's challenges-whether it's homelessness, or hunger, or affordable housing-are built with local expertise. They are managed from the bottom-up, not imposed from the top down.

I'm happy to say that the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act has been achieving these goals, providing more and better housing, for the last 20 years.

I cannot take credit for the great work done under this Act by my predecessors or the people in this room. But I recognize it, and thank you all for it, and promise to carry that torch onward.

I am here not just to speak, but to listen, and to forge friendships with those fighting for American Indian people and their communities.

I hope that together, we may bring them more opportunities, an increased voice, and happy, healthy homes.