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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Blackfeet Indian Reservation

Wednesday, August 4, 1999

Thank you very much. Thank you for the kind introduction. Let me also thank the Chairman for setting up this trip and showing his hospitality. The Chairman is right. He didn't have all that long of a notice to set up the trip -- just a couple of days.

But this is on the theory be careful of what you ask for, because you may get it (laughter). I saw the Chairman at the Pine Ridge Summit, which I am going to speak about this afternoon. The Chairman, he had the tenacity, he had the energy: He said, "You have to come and see my reservation. We have all sorts of ideas, all sorts of plans. You have to come. Let me find a date and we will see, maybe we can make some - no, as soon as you can you have to come." So this is as soon as I could come Mr. Chairman. You got what you asked for. Thank you for a really, really splendid, splendid day today.

I can't appreciate the needs of this situation long distance. The only way to really understand is for me to go out and see and hear and talk and feel and get a real sense of what the need is, and then you know how to better help. That is what this visit has done for me today and I want to thank you also for the creativity and the energy you have bought to your position. Everything you have said is right. This will only happen if each tribe, each reservation makes it happen. That is why local leadership is so important, and that is why someone of your talent and your ability can make all the difference in the world for this reservation. I want to thank you very much for everything that you are doing.

I also want to introduce Ms. Jackie Johnson who is the person who runs the program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Jackie is really a powerful person. She not only is the good looks of the operation, Jackie runs the Native American Program. She is the first Native American to run the Native American Program at HUD -- Jackie Johnson.

We have Laura Brasen who is here from Senator Burns' office. I spoke with the Senator before I came out on this trip, and we had a good conversation about the needs and about the possibility of helping the group. And Greg Eclund you have met from Senator Baucus' office. I am going to touch base with the Senator when I get back to inform him of what I saw and what I did to see what we can do together.

Let me make a couple of quick points if I can, and then hear what is on your mind. I want to make sure that I have the full picture when I go back and hear anything you would like to tell me and anything that you think I should know.

But a couple of points if I can, first. The Chairman mentioned the Pine Ridge Summit, which was really a very powerful and historic meeting. It was on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -- Oglala Sioux, the poorest census tract in the United States. President Clinton was on the Reservation, kicked off the Summit with one hundred tribal chiefs from across the country. The first time a President of the United States has been on an official visit to a reservation since President Calvin Coolidge in 1927.

It was a unique coming together, and to me it showed first of all President Clinton's commitment. He came to Pine Ridge, he met with the tribal Chairs because he wanted to say I personally am committed to doing something. This was not the first meeting -- there was a meeting at the White House before that, meetings at HUD, but it was the President's way of saying I want to come to you to show you that I am committed to actually making a difference in Indian Country.

The President's message was very powerful. Simple but powerful. That on one hand you have a great American success story right now. They talk about the strongest economy in history. We've made more millionaires in this economy than every before. The stock market is hitting record highs. Everybody is making more money than ever before. That is one story of one America.

But as the President points out, it is not the American story for everyone everywhere. You have that great picture of economic success, money creating more millionaires and more homeowners than ever before. But you also have people in real places with real poverty and real needs. Who haven't seen things get that much better and whether it is 1960 or 1970 or 1980 or 1990 or 2000 it doesn't matter for them. Because they haven't been touched by this strong economy. You look at some of the places we visited today, some of the homes we were in today. This strong economy, this great stock market isn't making any difference in those homes.

What we have said as a country is that we are strongest when we are all successful. That we believe in community, that we believe in moving down this road towards success together. Well then, what we saw this morning says you are not a success. Maybe the economy is working for some people, but you also have a lot of work to do in other places for other people.

It is a cruel irony that in many cases, the places of the greatest need are Indian reservations, that the first Americans in many cases in economic terms wound up as the last Americans. That is a cruel irony. That is a sin. That is a scar on this nation's soul that we should not allow to exist. And that is what President Clinton said at the Pine Ridge Summit and that is what I am here to say to you today.

Now, what do we do about it. As the Chairman said, how do we make a difference? If that is what we believe, what do we do? Because the thought without the action is pointless. The words without the remedy, the rhetoric without the remedy is pointless.

What do we do? First it is going to take investment. You have phenomenal potential here. We went out hunting this morning, some of the most beautiful country in America. You don't get this geography anywhere. It is a gift from God and it is yours. The land speaks of potential.

You have tourism potential, you have hunting potential, fishing potential, lodges, bed and breakfasts, businesses that would love to come out. Great potential that has to be tapped. It will not tapped by an act of faith. It takes investment to unleash the potential. You need infrastructure, you need roads. They say you need some money to make money. And you need investment to make money. You need decent housing, you need a good school system and you need an environment where a business says or a tourist says, I want to go there. And that doesn't happen automatically.

And what we are saying at HUD is that we want to invest in your reservation because you deserve it and because an investment in the reservation is an investment in America that will reap dividends. We want to end this cycle where year after year government is providing this and government is providing that, and government is not providing housing, not providing food, not providing clothing. Lets get out of the mind-set that government should provide and get back to the original mind-set which was that the best thing government can provide is opportunity. Economic development. Jobs. Then let you do for yourself. You won't have to worry about government. Does HUD provide housing? HUD will never provide enough housing on Newport.

But that is not the key. The key is to make HUD help the reservations become self- sufficient. Make every individual self sufficient. So they are not relying on anyone. So that you can do for yourself. That we can do, but it first takes an investment. It takes an investment to unleash that potential. That is what the Federal government must say that they are here to help.

But there's a second piece that the Chairman reminded us of. I think it is a piece that has been lost in the past. Nothing will happen until you make it happen. Nothing will happen until you make it happen. No change will occur, until you decide a change will occur. I don't care if it is an Indian reservation, if it is a city, if it is an individual who is trying to make a change in there lives.

Unless you make it happen nothing happens. I can help. President Clinton wants to help. The Federal government wants to help. Businesses want to help. But it is up to you to take the first step. That is what empowerment is all about. This can't be done by Washington. This can't be done by the Federal government. We have to give the power to the people. The power to the tribes. The power to the reservations. The flip side is you have to use the power. You have to absorb the power. You have to grab the power. You have to say it is about me and I am not going to take it anymore. I have a vision. I have a plan. I'm going to start. I have the energy. I control my own destiny. I control my own future and it can be better than it is today.

You take that step, you take that positive energy and you come up with that vision. Your leaders come up with an idea of what this reservation should look like ten years from today, five years from today. And then we will be with you every step of the way as your partner. I feel the energy in your Council. I see the energy in your Chairman. I believe as I stand before you today there is all sorts of potential on this reservation. We just have to have the intelligence to reach out and touch it. Together we will.

Thank you for having me.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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