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Video



Secretary Salazar's Tribal Nations Conference Address Outlines Progress


December 5, 2012


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Transcript

But it’s a great crowd and very wonderful and a historic day for all of us. Let me, as Secretary of the Interior and as a very proud member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet I welcome all of you here to Interior to this, what is now the fourth White House Tribal Conference that we have had in the last four years. It is truly historic.

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

 SALAZAR: You know, President Obama, back in 2008, made a commitment to Indian Country. And as we have gone forward with these conferences, now four years in a row, this is part of what I would call in my vernacular, promises made and promises delivered. But it’s more than just the fact that the leaders from Indian Country from throughout the nation come here and gather with the leaders of the United States, meets the president and his cabinet, and other leading officials, but it is the fact that we are a problem solving effort. This is an effort, not only to report out on the progress that we have made together over the last year and over the last four years, but also to make sure that we’re looking ahead because we know that we have a lot more work to be done. It is not something that happens every day where you have the leaders of the tribal nations from throughout America in one place and at the same time you have eight members of the president’s cabinet along with the president of the United States coming together at one place. That should, in and of itself, send a loud and clear message to everyone that Barack Obama understands the importance of Indian Country and is committed to making sure that we continue to make progress in creating a new chapter on the nation-to-nation relationship between Indian Country and the United States. 

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: As the day goes on, you will have the opportunity to hear from Secretary Duncan on education issues, Secretary Sebelius on Health and Human Services issues, Secretary Vilsack on Department of Agriculture issues, the Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank on the issues of commerce, Secretary Ray LaHood on matters of transportation, and Secretary Solis on matters of labor. In addition, you will hear from high ranking officials from many other agencies including, on behalf of Attorney General Holder, the Department of Justice, on behalf of Secretary Geithner, Treasury, on behalf of the Homeland Security and Secretary Napolitano, Craig Fugate and others who will also be here. So it is a crowd that is a very important crowd. In addition, even yesterday, I made a call to someone who is here in the audience, because a number of you had called and said that you needed to learn a little bit more about energy and the role of furk. So Jon Wellinghoff, the chairman of the federal energy regulatory commission is also here in the audience. Are you here Jon? There he is. Stand up. Give him a round of applause.

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: He said to me, I won’t let you down because it’s important for Indian Country. It’s good to see you here chairman. Let me just quickly say that for us, in this administration, for the president from day one, it has been a moral imperative that we do better, that we begin a new chapter in Indian Country. We’re proud of the work that we’ve done. It’s based on a moral imperative that we have. We recognize that the historic progress that we’ve made over the last four years is only the beginning and that we have a lot more to go. But it’s important, at times, to look back, to just take, for a minute, and reflect on what it is that we have done. We’re proud of the work that we’ve done on completing the litigation on Cobell, on moving forward with leasing reforms, on the Tribal Law and Order Act, on so many other things that I believe represent comprehensive change. But we also know that there’s more work to be done. I wanna highlight just a few of these things because I think they’re important as we started out this historic conference today. You know, I became Secretary of Interior, and the president asked me to highlight and work on these issues, I remember having a meeting at the time with my Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk and our BIE regional directors, and they explained to me that we basically had a de facto moratorium on the prior administrations on taking land into trust. Since that time, the United States of America and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have worked hard and have processed over 1,000 applications, taking land into trust and over 190,000 acres. That’s a metric that we’re very proud of. 

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: The Cobell litigation had essentially strangled the Department of Interior and the relationship with Indian Country for multiple presidencies and for a very long time. But under the great leadership of Attorney General Holder and David Hayes our Deputy Secretary and Hillary Tompkins and so many others who worked on that matter, we’re able to bring that to resolution. The Cobell case now, with the final declarations from the U.S. Supreme Court, closes a dark and painful chapter that existed between the United States and Indian Country. In addition, part of that legacy is Eloise Cobell’s legacy, which is a creation of an educational trust fund that will help Native Americans around the country gain access to higher education. So, in her absence, but in celebrating her life and her legacy, let’s Eloise Cobell a round of applause because she stood up for the right thing for America.

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: The president has been clear to us that those are important works but that there’s more work to be done. And so we’ve worked very hard with the tribes on trying to settle other aspects of trust litigation with the tribes themselves and have over 1.1 billion dollars now that have actually settled many of these cases around the country. But we know that the restoration of tribal homelands and dealing with these injustices of the past isn’t sufficient. That we need to work hard to make sure that creating opportunity for Indian Country is part of our agenda. And so the president has led the effort to resolve longstanding water disputes that have been a part of Indian Country and the States for so long. And so the signing by the president of six historic water rights agreements and the investment of nearly 2 billion dollars means that the Taos Pueblo and the Aamodt case pueblos, including the Pojoaque, Tesuque, San Ildefonso, and Nambe pueblos in New Mexico; as well as the Crow Tribe in Montana; the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona; the Navajo Nation in New Mexico; and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes in Nevada, they all now will have real wet water projects that now are under construction and we’re very of that work and recognize that we still have a lot more to do around the country. 

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: Now, you all know, as well as anybody else, how important energy is to the future of the United States of America but also to Indian Country. But it’s important that we not leave Indian Country behind as we move forward with the all-of-the-above energy strategy of the president of the United States. And in that regard, we’re proud that, just in the last year, the Moapa Solar Project with the Paiute Indians of Nevada will be the first 350-megawatt solar energy project that has stood up on Indian lands. It is on the way. And as we move forward with renewable energy projects across the country, we’re also proud of the fact that in places like Fort Berthold, we have a new economic revolution that is underway there in Fort Berthold where hundreds of oil and gas leases now are producing significant oil and gas for the needs of the country and are creating new opportunities for that tribe. And we know that it’s not just about water, the lifeblood of communities, and energy to power our nation and to power Indian tribes, there’s a lot more that we have to do on self determination. And that’s why the president was so proud when signing the HEARTH Act which created so many new opportunities for tribal self determination and sends the authority that was reposed so long in the Bureau of Indian Affairs to tribes themselves as these guidelines are created under the great leadership of Kevin Washburn. And Del Laverdure, one of our key leaders in Crow, from the Crown Nation, who has been with us for the last three years, took the lead in putting together the renovation of the tribal leasing regulations, which is the first update in fifty years. Essentially, what they will do, is when those applications come in, they won’t just sit on somebody’s desk, because the way that he wrote the regulations is, if there is no action taken, they will be deemed to be approved. And so in the future… 

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: In the future, you don’t have to wait. Let me quickly just run through a few other things. The president has been very supportive of investing in education and understanding the education challenges that we face in Indian Country the 300 million dollars that are now helping about 18 thousand students from the Recovery Act were investing in helping make schools better in the United States of America. Just in the last two days, the Bureau of Indian Education of the Department of the Interior, signed an MOU with Secretary Arne Duncan to make sure that the work in the last several years is one that we work on together. There’s a lot of expertise in the Department of Education under Secretary Duncan’s leadership and we will work fully with him in implementing that MOU. In addition, with the Department of Education as well as Health and Human Services, we at Interior, have signed a Memorandum that supports Native languages as part of the culture of Native Americans and we as the United States are committed to make sure that the Native languages are not forgotten. 

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: One other key issue, which is important for all of us, you recognize more than anybody else, that education really is the keystone to future opportunity for your children, your grandchildren, and for yourselves. And so, what we have done to make sure that those opportunities are going to be created under this MOU with Secretary Duncan, that safe communities are important, so the Tribal Law and Order Act that was signed by the president will put a new focus on tribal communities. Here at Interior, we revamped the process for BIA law officers and have increased the number of applicants for those positions by 500 percent. By 500 percent. And we’re overseeing the largest hiring increase in BIA law enforcement in the history of the United States. And finally, we’ve taken on a pilot project on violent crime reduction in specific targeted reservations around the country; we have already seen promising results with a 35 percent reduction in violent crime in those reservations. This year, we’re adding two additional reservations the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona and we expect to see great progress in those reservations as well. As important as all those things are, at the end of the day, it also is about just having a respect for the sovereignty of Indian tribes and making sure that the United States of America is engaged in a robust consultation process with Native Americans. That has been a key effort which has been led by the president and by the White House and we have the government-to-government consultations that are taking place across the country. Now, let me just finally say, there’s a lot more work to be done. We could list a hundred items, but we know, for example that Carcieri is an issue that needs to be fixed. The president has made strong statements to the congress and hopefully we’ll see a fix that will create a correction to this Supreme Court decision that frankly was not decided in the right way. For all of us here in the Obama Administration, we are honored that you would give us of your time today. Sure, we are here in Washington, and this is an agenda that the president and his teams strongly believe in, but you have traveled here from throughout the United States and from places far away in Alaska to come and have a dialogue with us. To hear from us on what we have done, but also, to give us your ideas on what it is that we ought to be doing. Now for me, it is historic that we’re able to continue to build on this great foundation in the last four years for another four years. That means we can do a lot more in terms of empowering Indian Country. 

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: And as we do so, our covenant is that we do it hand-in-hand with the leadership with great people including Jodi Gillette and Charlie Galbraith at the White House who have been so instrumental in pulling together this conference. And one more final point before we start the festivities of flag ceremonies and songs is I just want to thank the people who have worked on this conference so hard. Night before last I was in the office about 10pm and there was a staff working on pulling together this conference, the packets that you have received, the bulletins that you have received. So I would like Jenny Sisk and Kallie Hanley and everybody else who’s been working hard at this, stand up, please join me in telling them thank you for the great work that they’ve done. 

AUDIENCE: [applause] 

SALAZAR: And with that we’ll have the presentation of the colors by the Native American women warriors accompanied by the representatives of the Navajo Code Talkers and please remain standing for the invocation.