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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Shared Visions Native American Housing Summit

March 30, 1999

SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you, good morning (Indian language message).

I can't tell you what a pleasure it is for me to be here and address these important issues. I want to first thank all the people who you've heard from already: George Bennett, Keller George, Joe Garcia, Chester Carl, thank you for the kind introduction. He told you that we were involved in the negotiated rule making about a year and half ago, on the "split the difference theory," and he said I was instrumental in the negotiation. That I came in at a critical time with a critical suggestion. I'll tell you what it was, I'll tell you what the secret was to my negotiating ability. This had been going on for quite some time and they were in Washington, DC and I walked in and I said, 'no one can leave Washington, DC until we settle these issues,' they were settled the next day, everybody was so anxious to leave Washington, DC.

Tribal leaders, I bring you greetings from President Clinton. And there are a number of HUD people who I would like to take the opportunity to point out today. Part of the message that we are trying to communicate on behalf of the Federal Government and President Clinton and HUD, is that this is an unprecedented commitment in working towards our relationship and growing our relationship and making it stronger than ever. As evidence of that commitment and respect there are more senior HUD officials at this conference then any conference like it before. And they will be coming and going through the course of the conference, but I wanted you to meet them, I wanted you to see the face that goes with the name. This is an extraordinary opportunity to have them here and I hope you all take advantage of it.

I'd like to introduce them quickly just so you know who they are. We have from the Office of General Counsel, the Head Counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. So if you have any legal questions or any difference on any interpretations of any laws, not that you would, but the person who can solve that for you is Gail Laster, the General Counsel of the Department.

We have a part of the Department that we're really excited about, we're bringing them as a new partner to this effort and you'll hear about that in a minute, but the presence of Ginnie Mae, Ginnie Mae sells the mortgages on the secondary market, they can do great things for us, George Anderson, the Executive Vice President of Ginnie Mae. We have the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Department, Rhoda Glickman. We have Father Joseph Hacala who works with me directly in the Department whose job it is to reach out to the not-for-profits and intermediaries and bring them to the HUD table, Father Joseph Hacala. We have Mercedes Marquez who is a counsel who specializes in civil rights in the Department and giving civil rights a real and powerful voice at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, long over due, Mercedes Marquez, she's in the back. We have Karen Hinton who is a tremendous force and she is going to be working to put together the Pine Ridge Summitt which we're very excited about, which is the follow-up to this meeting, Karen Hinton. Where are you Karen? There she is right in the back. And then a person you've already met, but the first Native American to head the Office of Native American Programs in the history of HUD, a good friend of mine, my teacher, my sister, Jackie Johnson.

We also have the new community builders who are here today, who you'll be meeting through the conference, the Office ONAP, which is the Office of Native American Programs at HUD, is the only office that was not downsized. We went through a re-organization a couple of years ago and we reduced, we had to reduce the overall size of the Department, the only office that was not reduced was the Office of Native American Programs and we just increased that office with 10 new community builders who will be stationed across the nation direct liaison to the tribes across the country. I would ask them just to stand, the community builders who are here today. Here they are, this is the new team. Thank you very much.

We're excited about what we're going to get done at this conference. And as I said, the first point is, we want to communicate our commitment to the relationship. And secondly, and I would pickup on a theme that you've heard already, the name of the conference is Shared Visions. And I think there is a lot in that name, and hearing Joe speak to it and hearing the opening comments, I see that others also think that the name is significant. Shared Visions means we as the Federal Government, a counterpart to the tribal governments, take an approach that says, it is not important what we, the Federal Government, think you should do. That was the relationship of the past, it is not the relationship of the future. What is important is what we can do together. And that it is very much a learning and a growing experience for us as much as it is for you. Shared, mutuality vision, which as Joe said, is different then reality.

What is our plan to get ahead, how do we grow and how do we develop that plan and make it a reality together, that's what Shared Visions is all about. And as a representative of the United States Government I can tell you that I know that we have a lot to learn from the Native American people. The United States Government is a mere infant compared to the heritage of the Native American people. We have only been in existence a mere 200 years, which is a fraction compared to the thousands of years that the Native American culture has developed. And you can see the richness in the heritage and the richness in the experience and the knowledge even within this area, parochially, of housing.

You look at how the Native Americans originally built housing and what it said about them as a people and their philosophy. They understood hundreds of years ago lessons that we're only learning today. When they built their housing they built it consistent with the place, the theory of circle of life, the theory of balance, the theory of harmony. Take only what you must to survive, but don't take anything more, have a respect for the earth, you are interconnected with the earth. Your future, your destiny is interconnected with the earth, and honor and respect that.

I'm from New York, the northeastern part of the United States, the homes that were built by the Iroquois were the long houses. The longer the house the bigger the family. Why? Because you didn't build more than you needed, that would be wasteful, that would be shameful to take more from the earth then you needed to. Mostly cedar and pine. Why? Because that's what was abundant there. Don't take the precious resource, that would be wrong. Teepee's we take for granted, but very intelligent, spoke to the lifestyle, nomadic. A lot of mobility, a lot of moving around, so don't build and scar the earth if you're going to move on. Again, use only those elements which are abundant and plentiful.

So when you're in parts of the country where there were hunters, and the Native Americans were hunters, then you had buffalo skinned teepees. Where you had grains and wheats then you had thatch on the teepees. But always consistent with the environment. We are just learning that lesson now as a nation. Now we talk about sustainable development. By the way, we can't continue to consume 7,000 acres of green space every week when we build homes, that's what we now do.

And it's dawned on us that that is wrong. You cannot take from the earth that way. Sustainable development, we can't keep building out and out in concentric circles and consuming more and more suburban and ex-urban space. We must learn to live in balance and harmony with the land. We've learned that lesson now. If we had just listened. If we had just seen, we would have seen that in the Native American housing and development hundreds of years ago. So Shared Visions means not just in rhetoric - but in reality - we have a lot to learn.

Now that was the story of Native American housing. The long houses, the teepees, subterranean in Alaska. But there is another story that the housing on the reservations will tell you today, and that story has two consistent themes. One is the story of over-regulation by a national Government, the long arm of the Federal Government. And one is the story of too few resources for too many needs. The story about over-regulation is the definition of a HUD home. Why should you be building HUD homes - and that's what they're called, HUD homes, not Navaho homes, HUD homes. Why? Because they are built by the HUD prescription and the HUD formula, because HUD in Washington sat down and they wrote a rule book, this is what a house must look like and this is what you must build. But it doesn't work that way, it doesn't work that way. Each situation is unique, each need is unique. You can't sit in Washington and decide 'this is what you shall do and it shall work for you.' All sorts of things that you couldn't contemplate. The only way to do this is to do this is bottom up.

I was at a home in Alaska, a HUD home in Alaska, and we were walking through this gentleman's home and the bathroom was all filled with belongings, like a storage room. The tub was filled, the sink was filled. And I said to the gentleman who owned the home, you know, you filled the bathroom with all that stuff, now you can't use the bathroom. He said, well, I couldn't use it anyway. I said, why not, he said because I have no running water. I said, well, that's funny, then why did you build a bathroom, I'm curious, if you had no running water, he said, I don't know.

HUD regulation said, any home must have a bathroom. When you write the regulations in Washington it makes sense, every home should have a bathroom. It's not prophetic, it's sort of common-sensical. Yes, but even if you don't have running water then do you need a bathroom, well, that's a different situation. But you can't come up with all those different applications from Washington. So change the definition, change the mentality, change the operation, not a HUD home, the home that you want to build. Now we started working on that principle, that is NAHASD [Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act], self-determination. It flipped the entire relationship, or at least it should flip the entire relationship if we do this right. 'You tell us,' not 'we tell you.' We need some national parameters, national goals, but you make it work for you.

Second point, is that there are too few resources for the needs, there are just too few resources. There is not enough money, it's not a complicated formula, it's not an algebraic calculation. Why haven't we made enough progress on the Indian reservations? Because we haven't made it a priority in this nation and we haven't committed ourselves to it and we haven't provided the resources.

Getting ready for today I read Senator Robert Kennedy's testimony, back in the late sixties on these issues. And he said, 'for too long the first Americans have been the last Americans when it comes to priority and commitment.' It's still true unfortunately. Not enough resources, not enough resources for infrastructure, not enough resources for housing, not enough resources for economic development, not enough resources for education. Once we've changed the relationship and we're listening more than talking and you are designing it and it's bottom up, we then have to have the resources to make those plans a reality. Otherwise the shared vision is a myth, if it's not a vision that can move towards a reality, that's what we want to start to work on today.

NAHASD is a giant step forward because it re-orders the relationship to the way it should have been in the first place. But now we have to work on the second chapter of the new book, which is speaking to the resources to make the plans happen.

We'll be speaking about several points at this conference. About the housing and economic development program, a few I want to highlight. First of all, and Mr. Garcia said this, the ultimate goal of all these plans is not the perpetuation of government subsistence programs. Joe said, 'the goal should not be a low income house for everyone. We're setting the sights too low if that's goal. The goal should be a good job and a career for everyone, so good, so strong, that they can buy their own home. That they won't need government or HUD or Bureau of Indian Affairs to give them a handout, that they can do for themselves, that should be highest goal' And let's start with that as a plan, and let's start with that as a peg and let's shoot for that. Generate that economic base, get the businesses there so you can create the jobs and start the engine running that way.

Now that is not going to happen because we hope for it. Reservations are very often remote, they don't have the infrastructure, they don't have a lot of the assets that many of the communities have. We're going to incentivize the business to go there period. It's not going to happen by osmosis, we know that. That's why it hasn't happened. That's why we have this great economy all over, but not yet on Indian reservations. Incentivize business to go to Indian reservations - why not? If you make it worth their while they will go.

Business is very simple. It works on the numbers, it works on a profit margin. If the numbers works they will go. We are starting something at HUD called the economic rural, rural economic development initiative. Twenty-five million dollars, an investment bank for rural America. If you think there is a business opportunity and there is a deal that we can put together to get a business to locate on a reservation, we want to invest. That's the first point, and we're doing that with the rural economic development initiative.

Second point we're going to be working on is getting the tribes in line with HUD's mainstream programs. Jackie Johnson has done an excellent job on this. NAHASD cannot be the be all and end all. It is not enough money frankly to do what we need to do. But there is a whole other side of HUD, George Anderson's side of HUD, the Ginnie Mae side, the FHA side of HUD, which is where the real resources are, the real opportunities are, and we have to get those programs working for Indian reservations also. You have the 202 housing program, elderly housing program, 600 million. Homeless programs, 1.2 billion. Programs for the disabled, 187 million.

Do you know how much funding reservations got from those programs last year? Zero. Do you know why? Because you couldn't apply. We have to change that, change that for non-profit entities that can then apply for those funds and can make it a reality on the Indian reservations. That's what was being talked about, we have to think outside of the box. We have this new economy, we have to think outside of the box to take advantage of it. We're going to be working on that at this conference and at the Pine Ridge Summit where we'll be doing a lot of work on setting up not-for-profits with Indian tribes and letting not-for-profits then apply for many of the programs that have been out of bounds for too long.

The third tool is homeownership. The way most Americans acquire wealth in this nation is by owning their own home. Number one way that Americans acquire wealth. Buy a home for 30,000 dollars, you live in the home for 20 years, it's now worth 120,000 dollars, and that's the retirement and that's the college education. It only works if you own the home. The amount of home ownership on reservations is diminimus. Why? Because we have overly complicated the process. President Clinton said last year to come up finally with a way to get a mortgage on an Indian reservation so we can make home ownership a reality, and we have done that.

We're going to put out a report today, joint report by HUD and Treasury, that gets us towards the one-stop mortgage shop. We're going to be setting up a financial intermediary who can bring all these players together, the bankers, the brokers, to make the mortgages and homeownership happen. We are recommending a statutory change to protect Indian lands, that even if there is a foreclosure on the mortgage the tribe is protected and the tribe doesn't lose the land. We're going to make the program simpler. We're going to combine two currently separate programs, the 184 and the 248 loan programs into a single loan program. We're going to have the FHA, which is a tremendous vehicle for home ownership, the Federal Housing Administration, dedicate 500,000 dollars to do homeownership counseling just on reservations. And Ginnie Mae, which buys the mortgages, is going to make Indian reservations a targeted lending program. Which means what in English? It means the lenders can make up to three basis points more for mortgages they make on Indian reservations and that's the kind of financial incentive we need to get businesses there and doing business, so we're excited about that.

And the fourth tool is committing ourselves to unprecedented consultation as we go through this process. Now you heard the definition of consultation earlier this morning. To deliberate, to discuss, to confer. I would agree with that definition. I would expand on it slightly. Which is to add a context that bespeaks a respect and an openness. Consultation doesn't necessarily mean you have to hear, it means you have to go through the process. We want to take it to another level where we do the consultation and we talk, but we also hear and respect the views. We're going to set up a process that does it.

We're going to have two summits annually. We consider this the first summit, second summit will be at Pine Ridge and those will be the major consultative periods for us. Not in association with any particular rule or program, but just opportunities to sit down, you tell us what you think about what we're doing, what do we need to do, what should we be doing better. The Pine Ridge summit I think is especially important. The issues are going to be very important. Setting up not-for-profits, forming relationships with the FHAs and the Ginnie Maes and the bankers and the brokers to get them doing business on reservations that they haven't done, but also frankly that it is on the Pine Ridge reservation.

In eleven years of HUD running the Native American programs, and doing these conferences, how many conferences have we held on an Indian reservation? None. In 11 years every conference we've asked you to come to us. Pine Ridge Reservation conference says, 'we want to come to you.' And that is a symbol of the way we want to structure this relationship. Two last points: first point, this model works. NAHASD, self-determination, you write the plan, it works. We have resources at HUD that can make a real difference. But I also believe that we have an historic opportunity to right wrongs that have existed for too long. You have a confluence of events here that I don't know that we will have them again for a long time. Number one, you have a President in President Clinton who is committed to your issues. You've seen that demonstrated by his attention and his pronouncements and what he has done. I can tell you personally that I have sat with him and I have discussed this issue and the animation of his body demonstrates his sincerity.

We also have an economy that is going gang busters, it's an historical economy. This nation is at a point where it can invest once again and it can take care of the problems it hasn't taken care of thus far. And third, in this new economy with business mobile, business can go anywhere. They have an Internet, they have a telephone, they have a computer, they can locate anywhere. Indian reservations are now closer than ever before. The remoteness, the isolation that was a liability for so long is not a liability today.

We have to run the fiber optic, we have to run the Internet line, but it is easier than paving a road. It is easier than running a railroad track. We can lay that wire and we can open up those reservations in ways we haven't done. We have the President, we have the economy, we have the ability. Seize it, seize the moment, carpe diem, seize the day and only you can do it. There are two sides to empowerment, there are two sides to bottom up. You have the power, but then you have to use it. And we have that moment.

And the second point, and the last point is this, we have to seize the moment, and you have to do it, and we have to do it, and Shared Visions has to be the way, not just for the Native American people. We have to right these wrongs for all Americans. Because the way this country works, the foundation of this country says 'it can't work for me if it doesn't work for you.'

Think about it, think about what this, what the country said in the beginning. We're not formed from any one religion or any one skin color, or any one accent. One common promise this nation made, one common promise, opportunity for all, justice for all. Not justice for some, not justice for tall people, short people, white people, black people, justice for all. And it either lives up to that or it doesn't. And if it doesn't live up to it for you then it doesn't live up to it for me, because that's all we had was that promise and that premise. And the promise of justice and economic justice.

Which says, today we're celebrating the DOW Jones hit the 10,000 mark, all-time high. But Paul will tell you that they are not celebrating today on the Pine Ridge Reservation that the DOW Jones hit 10,000, because they are not in that stock market and they don't know from the DOW Jones, and they are not feeling this great economic success. And it seems to them it may as well as be the eighties, or the seventies, or the sixties. And not that the DOW Jones hit a new high. But that then says we're not a success, because if it doesn't work for everyone, it doesn't work for anyone.

We have a concept of social justice, that says 'unless we're offering the same promise of opportunity to all our children, we're not offering it to any of our children.' Great private education system in this nation. First grade they are on Joe's Pentium processors typing away on the Internet in the first grade. Little girl I met up in a village in Alaska, Kasigluk, no running water, no tools, beautiful bright blue eyes looking out at the future, and I was looking back at her, thinking 'what future does she have, how badly is she disadvantaged?' Because there she is, three or four-years-old, five-years-old, and already you can be left behind by this society, because this is a three-year-old or a four-year-old learning the best skills in the best schools. How is that America? Because it doesn't work for my daughter if it doesn't work for the daughter in Kasigluk. That is what we believe, that is at the essence of what we believe. And it is the truth, my friends, it is the truth. Now is the time, now is the opportunity, it's up to you, let's make it happen. We are committed to making it happen. If there is anything President Clinton can do, anything we can do, we will be there to do it. Let's take this step, let's share a vision, let's take a step to a new and better future and let's do it together.

Thank you very much.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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