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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Pine Ridge Indian Reservatin

Wednesday, July 7, 1999

Thank you. Thank you very much. What a great day. It doesn't get any better than this. President Salway, thank you for the kind introduction. All the tribal presidents who are here with us today, over 100 strong, tribal presidents from all over the United States here today. (Applause)

Conference participants, brothers and sisters from the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, we have our friend with us, Senator Tom Daschle, who is a great leader for the state, a great leader in the Senate, who worked very hard to make today possible. Senator Tim Johnson is also with us today, Congressman John Thune, we have a Congressional delegation with Congressmen from all across the United States, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. (Applause)

My brothers and sisters from the Tlingit-Haida Indian Tribe, it's a pleasure to be with you and a special welcome.

A special welcome to a good colleague of mine, a great public servant, a true champion for Indian Country. He just finished signing with the President of the United States, the first Empowerment Zone ever for an Indian reservation, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. (Applause)

President Salway said that there are many challenges on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the Lord knows that there certainly are, as there are on many reservations across the country. The numbers in many cases are staggering. 73 percent unemployment. A need for housing in the thousands and thousands of units.

But that is exactly why I'm proud that the President of the United States is here today, because that's what real leadership is about. Yes we have challenges, but that's why President Clinton should be here today. (Applause)

And I'll tell you, I've worked with the President for the full administration, literally before the first day. I was in the transition committee that worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And the President has done many remarkable things during that time and I've been proud to be part of the team.

But there has never been any undertaking or accomplishment that I am personally prouder of than what the President has done this past week with the New Markets initiative and what the President of the United States is doing today on this reservation. Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause)

You've heard about the President's week-long tour on the New Markets Initiative -- which is going to communities across this nation that have yet to share in this great American success, meeting them and working with them, and hearing from them to see how we can best tap their potential. Yes, there is poverty here, and yes there is poverty in many communities across the country, all with different faces, and different accents, and different skin colors -- but all with the same basic challenges and the same basic hopes.

And the President's message is two-fold. First, there is a great economic opportunity for this nation in these communities. There is business to be done, there is money to be made. This is not about charity, this is about investment. (Applause)

If we want to keep this historic economy going as strong as it's been going now, we need two things. The economic equivalent of air and water are new workers and new markets. Where are the new workers of tomorrow? I'll tell you where. They're the unemployed of today in Appalachia, and the Delta, and East St. Louis, and here on the Pine Ridge reservation. (Applause)

Where are the new consumer markets of tomorrow? They're right here. We recently talked to experts who estimate there are hundreds of millions of dollars in untapped markets in rural America just waiting to be explored and developed.

There is business to be done and that's good for the overall country. But there is a second message, which to me is more important and even more powerful than the first message. Because it says, not only is it good for the nation's wallet, but it is good for the nation's soul. That this nation has a moral obligation to bring its people who are not yet sharing the American dream into that great American success story. It is a question of our national identity. It is a question of our national definition. It's what this country has always been about, not one common color or race or religion, but one common set of principles.

You can get it down to three words. This nation promised opportunity for all. That if you were willing to work we would work with you, and you could do better for yourself and for your family. And you could progress, and we believed in you, and we wanted to invest in you, and we wanted to work with you.

Because we believe that we are more than a collection of individuals, we are a society. That we are all connected and interrelated. And that there is a cord that connects me to you, and you to you, and you to you, and maybe we don't see it, but it is there. And that cord then weaves a fabric that binds us all.

And when we raise one we lift all of us, and when one sinks we all drown. That we are in this thing together. And that's why we support each other and we work together, and we provide opportunity for all. Not as a hollow promise, but as a collective promise where we will work with you to make sure that that opportunity exists.

And for many it does, and you have a historic record of success. But as the President has pointed out to the nation this week, there are many places who are not yet sharing that success. There is in this nation an opportunity gap. People who want to work, people who want to better themselves, but who can't. Who don't have the access to the education, and the access to the resources, or the access to the capital.

We saw Geraldine Bluebird today, who needs to save just to buy her children shoes to go to school. How can she compete in this economy? Where is the equal playing field? If we believe in her and believe in her success, then we have to reach out to raise her up.

That's what this is all about -- that interconnection, the interrelation. The President uses the word "community". The Native American speaks about the symbol of the circle --no beginning, no end, all inextricably linked, all connected one to the other. As goes one, goes us all. That is what this is really about. That's why it's important that this Reservation work.

And now my friends is the time to do it. We have a moment in history. We have to seize it because this time may not come again. We have a certain confluence of events and factors that are happening today that may never happen again.

You have a President of the United States who cares about these issues, and cares about these places. (Applause) You have an economy that is so strong that we can actually bring investment to these places. You have a Federal Government that is no longer saddled with the deficit that frustrated progressive Government for over a decade. We have our house in order, we have the ability, we can get back to the good work of activist Government.

And we have learned our lessons from the past. We understand that this cannot be done by the federal government in Washington, DC, sending out mandates and ideas for communities to follow. But nor can it be done by the private sector alone. Because if the private sector were doing it we wouldn't have to be here today. We need the government working with the private sector -- incentivizing, stimulating, facilitating, promoting. That's the combination that's going to work.

All those factors are present today. It's just for us to reach out and make it happen. That's what this week is all about. Why? Because despite all we've done, despite all the progress that this great nation has made, we can be better than we are still. The country can be stronger than it is today, the promise can be even brighter.

If this is how strong we are today, imagine how strong we will be when every man and woman is participating in this economy to the full extent of their ability. Imagine how strong we're going to be when Appalachia, and the Delta, and the urban areas are fully participating. Imagine how strong we're going to be when the 73 percent who are unemployed today on this reservation are 73 percent employed.

That's when this nation will be strong. (Applause) When that bright American sun of opportunity showers down on all her people and all her places, and shines on people who have been left too long in the shadows. Today that ray of sunshine has broken through.

Thank you. (Applause)

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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