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Secretary Andrew Cuomo's Remarks
Shared Visions Conference

Wednesday, July 7, 1999

Thank you very much. You've been sitting so long you wanted to stretch your legs, I don't blame you. I am really the last speaker, promise, promise.

But it's been a really amazing, amazing day already. We made history this morning, we're going to do business this afternoon, and we're going to do business tomorrow. And the energy, talk about the energy. The energy that is in the conference participants here today, and the energy that was there when the President was touring the homes this morning, meeting with Ms. Bluebird and she was talking about her situation, you just sense the energy and the potential of the energy. A lot of people to thank, to make this happen. This is quite an undertaking. We've been working at it for about a year.

And so we'll recognize [Father] Peter Klink, and Sister Patricia Cruise from the Red Cloud School, the Holy Rosary Mission, they have done phenomenal things. ...We can't thank them enough. [Father] Bill Pauley - who is in charge and just fighting through a tornado, believe or not, repairing from a tornado and had to get ready for this conference - so we thank them very much for being here.

The CEO's who were here today, they are the new piece in the puzzle that we introduced today. I have more to say about the purpose of them. But we want to thank them for coming out, for all they've done, for their generous commitments, for the promises for future business relations that they bring, we want to thank them all collectively for being here today. Thank you very much.

The HUD team, I don't normally make a personal digression to thank my own team, but on this one I'll make a general exception to the rule. This was a very difficult situation to complete. Ron Allen said, and he was kind in his introduction, that I have a very can-do attitude, and I do have a can-do attitude. When you are at HUD you have to have a can-do attitude, because there are always a hundred reasons why you can't do, so you have to have a very positive outlook, and you have to have an orientation that says, I refuse to hear the negative and I insist on the positive.

So when we talk about getting the President of the United States to go to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation there were a lot of negatives that were raised. 'Well, you know, that's the poorest census tract in the nation, why would we want to do that. Well, you know, there is a lot of real problems there, 75 percent unemployment, why would we want that, a lot of logistical problems.' But we refused to take no for an answer. And you got a sense of the team today. And you have a sense of their development and their capacity, but you haven't yet sensed their heart and their soul. And they work at this night and day for literally close to a year.

And today President Bill Clinton made history on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and gave an entire nation literally a new sense of hope, a new sense of spirit, a new sense of commitment, and exposed the issues to the American people that had been invisible for too long.

And I would thank from the bottom of my heart the HUD team who worked on it. I hate to pick out names, but you've been seeing the Deputy Secretary Saul Ramirez who is a magnificent talented individual. Jackie Johnson, our own Jackie Johnson, Native America programs. (Applause) Karen Hinton Looney who killed herself for the past year and showed up today with her brand new baby and husband in tow. (Applause) Our father, Father Joseph Hacala who was the way we got to Peter Klink of the Red Cloud School, Joseph Hacala, (Applause) Max Stier and the entire team, thank you all very much for what you've done.

One other person I have to thank because this person let's me, enables me, empowers me to do everything that I do, 24 hours a day, gives of herself, gives of our family, gives me advice and wisdom that really helps me do what I do, and Lord knows I wouldn't be able to do it half as well as I do, and I better do it well enough, if it wasn't for my wife, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo.


One joke, three quick points, but the joke is a joke, but also has a little relevance to it. You know what the Federal official who went to speak on the Indian Reservation -- you don't know this joke? O.K. Federal official comes out of Washington, DC goes to the Indian reservation out west to speak to the Indian tribe about the intentions of the Federal Government. And the Federal official, it's his first trip out of Washington, first trip to the Indian reservation and he gets to the Indian reservation and he is addressing the entire tribe that came out to meet him and he is introduced by the chief and he starts his speech.

'I'm from the Federal Government and I want you to know that we're very concerned about the situation that's present on the Indian reservations.' The people start to respond, nod their head, respond saying, tabloka, tabloka. And he now is invigorated that he started to get a response, so he started to get more animated and he says, I'm telling you that the Federal Government is going to do more than ever before to help the Indian tribes because we understand our responsibility. And now the response is getting stronger, tabloka, tabloka, and he said that 'you have my word and my commitment and I stand before you today that we're going to do more than the past 10 years then in the next 10 years we're going to do for you.' And now the tribe is really animated, tabloka, tabloka, tabloka. And he really thinks that he now has this entire audience at a fever pitch and he says, 'I'm going to be back, I'm going to be back, I'll be back and you're going to thank me for everything I've done.' Now the whole crowd stands up, tabloka, tabloka. He's happy that he did so well in his speech.

And the chief of the tribe says, 'let me take you for a tour around the reservation before you leave,' to the Federal official. And we want to take you and show you our prize bull that we have out in the back. (Laugh). They step over the railing to go see the prize bull and they're walking through the field and the chief leans over to the Federal official said 'be careful, don't step in the tabloka,' so. (Applause) I'm sorry for that, Peter. But he got dispensation.

The relationship between the Federal Government and the Indian tribes has not always been the best as the tabloka would suggest. President Clinton alluded to that at the beginning of the conference when he said there were many things that happened in the past which were wrong by this Federal Government to the sovereign nations. But the President went on to say he wanted to focus on the future. And that is very much a positive outlook, but it is also very true that a lot that has happened has been wrong. Bobby Kennedy was here 31 years ago: too little has happened in those 31 years.

I was asked to go to The White House to brief many of the tribes who are here today from the mid-plains, and I was getting prepared for the briefing and they were giving me all these facts and figures about the situation on Indian reservations, and all these elaborate explanations of why things are the way they way they are. And thinking about it, getting prepared for that meeting, going to the White House, meet with the tribal chiefs in the Roosevelt Room, which is the main meeting room in The White House, it's named for Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt.

I said to the chiefs, you can either use a lot of words to explain what has happened or you can use very few words. And the simple truth is, is what has happened is wrong, it is wrong. There is no excuse, there is no excuse for the way Geraldine Bluebird lives in the Igloo housing site. There is no excuse, 1999, you have the strongest economy in history, you have the Dow Jones over 11,000, you have more millionaires then ever before, you have the highest homeownership rate in history, and you have a woman living in a two bedroom house with eleven people, seventeen family members living next door in a trailer, and you can't blame her or the family for anything. They want to go to school, they want to work, good people, well meaning people, you can't dismiss it with some social dysfunction. You can't blame the victim. It is inexcusable, it is wrong, 75 percent unemployment in this market.

We're developing markets all across the country where we can have Gateway Computer make millions, and millions of dollars because they can do business on fiber optic, which can go where a road or a rail never did. It is inexcusable: you go look at the housing on the Igloo housing site and then you go look at the new manufactured housing, 65,000 dollars, done in a matter of days, 400 dollars a month, you can make that happen. How do you not make that happen and call yourself the richest nation on the planet? Are you really rich, are you really a success, how do you really count your ledger books, what's really important. And just proclaiming the Dow Jones at record heights, does that make you rich, and does that make you a success, or is there a different calibration. And can we really look at how we treat one another and how we have been to the first Americans, which is what the Native Americans are. The first Americans, it was their land first. (Applause) ...

How do we remedy it? First we change the relationship. That's what the President said when he signed the executive order saying I want tribal consultation. What he said was, 'I don't want the Federal Government sitting in Washington, DC telling tribes what to do. You don't know what they should do, I don't know what they should do.' And believe me, that we knew what should be done is really the height of arrogance.

I told Paul Iron Cloud the last time I was out here, the story. Jackie Johnson and I went to Alaska. We were going through some tribal housing in Alaska, we're going, they're showing me the homes, the HUD homes, HUD homes, they always call it HUD homes, why? Because they don't want to call them their own homes, that's why they call them HUD homes. It's always HUD, HUD homes. We're going to look at the HUD homes and they're showing us the HUD homes and I'm noticing that the bathrooms are all filled with storage items. Filled up with storage items, to such an extent that you couldn't possibly be using the bathroom. I see this the first time, I don't say anything because, you know, you're in someone's home and you don't want to say, 'by the way, how do you use the bathrooms?' based on first impressions....

But then I go to the second house, and the same thing, bathrooms all filled up with storage items. Third house, fourth house, finally, I got up the nerve and I said, 'I don't understand, the bathrooms are all filled with storage items.' And the person who was taking me on the tour said, 'well, yes, that's right, but HUD regulations say that you must have bathrooms in the home.' I said, 'well, that's a good regulation, I'm glad of that regulation.' You know, people say HUD regulations, I normally cringe, but this was a regulation I was proud of.

So I gave a little speech about it, of course, 'you should have a bathroom in every house,' President Clinton said it, 'a bathroom in every house,' and I'm proud as HUD Secretary that we mandate a bathroom in every house. The girl said, 'yes, but we don't have running water here (Laugh), so the bathroom doesn't do us much good.' When you're in Washington, DC it sounds good, a bathroom in every house, but how about if you're building in a place that has no running water, do you still think it's a good idea to build a house with a bathroom and full plumbing?

Change the relationship, not just within one program: don't make this mistake across the board, with all local Governments. Now we know better: change the relationship, ask, don't tell. Offer a menu, not mandates. You tell us how we can help and we'll prescribe to you. (Applause). That's what NAHASDA [Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act] is all about. That's what NAHASDA is all about. Changing the essence of the relationship.

Even more important with the Indian tribes frankly, because they are nations, they are not local Governments, they're not cities, they're not states, they are nations, they are peers of the United States. They honor me, a tribal chief who deals with me directly honors me because in my protocol, that tribal president's peer is the President of the United States. So to deal with me they honor me. Change the relationship, we did that, we did that. We changed orientation, we changed culture, we changed the rules, we changed the programs, that's NAHASDA, we changed the playing field, we have different relationships.

We then said 'let's get to work.' What do we have to do first? We have to provide the infrastructure. I hate that word, such a brutal word, infrastructure. You have to provide the platform that we can build on, water and sewer. God bless Secretary Dan Glickman for being here, for what USDA and Agriculture does, water and sewer, nothing helps until you get the veins in, the arteries running. You can't build a living organism until you have the veins in the arteries and that's all water and sewer, and you have to have roads, and you have to have an education system, and you have to have safe and decent housing. We have been working on that.

We made great progress, we have great models, we're going to share them with you tomorrow, the not-for-profits. More housing, more homeownership. And then we take the next step, which as Mr. Young pointed out, the President pointed out this morning - the entire equation doesn't work unless it ends with a job at the end of the equation, nothing works. These gentlemen will do homeownership for you all day long but, you know what, at the end of the day you need an income stream to make homeownership possible. You need a job, you need an annual income, and we're going to have to have that piece, that Government cannot do.

I agree with Ron Allen, Government's job is to build the platform. It's Government's job to run the water and sewer and the roads, and provide the basic platform to build on. But the jobs Government can't provide, only the private sector can provide. Well, then what do we do? We do what we're trying, what we're trying to do with the new markets initiative. We can incentivize the private sector. We can facilitate the private sector, we can promote the private sector, we can encourage the private sector to come in and to do business - and that's what this is today.

When we meet CEO's, who you heard from today, these organizations are the best and the biggest in this entire housing industry, homeownership industry, finance industry. This is really a magnificent opportunity. We talked about this at the last conference, that now we have to form the relationships with the private sector companies. Bring them to reservations, form the relationships with the tribes, let HUD, let Government incentivize them, but at the end of the day it's going to be the business deal that you make with them. Thirty minutes or so, get set to network, all day tomorrow during the cultural events, make it your business to know them. Make it your business to do business with them. That's why they are here today and that is the engine that makes the entire thing work. That's what this step is all about.

Last point is this, President Clinton said when he was leaving today, he was truly moved by what he saw. And he was saying goodbye to President Salway who has been great as a partner to us in setting up this entire event. But President Clinton looked at President Salway and said, 'now it's up to you, it's up to you,' that's what President Clinton was trying to say in his speech, it's up to you, share visions, it's a cooperative.

It's not the Federal Government's vision, we've decided that, it has to be your vision, and your plan, and your impetus. You have to walk up to these gentlemen and you have to make the deal. You have to have the vision and the plan for your community, and you have to see where you want to take your reservation, your tribe, your neighborhood, and you have to make it happen.

We will be there with you, we will help you every step of the way. We will help you put in the platform, but it is up to you, no one can substitute for your own vision and your own initiative, that's what this is all about. Use this opportunity, use this opportunity, you don't know that you'll ever get another one.

You don't know that you'll ever get another President of the United States to come to the Pine Ridge Indian reservation or any reservation for that matter. Last one [here] was Calvin Coolidge, 1927. You don't want to wait that long again. Use this opportunity. You will never get this array of private sector talent here again. You will never get these companies here again - use the opportunity. We have a moment in history for many different reasons, but the moment is now. Carpe diem, seize the day, together we will. Thank you. (Applause)

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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