June 6, 2012 - Administration for Native Americans Grantees

June 6, 2012

Alexandria, Virginia

Administration for Native Americans Grantees

Welcome, all of you, to this very important conference. Thanks for coming.

It may have been a long time in coming, but I guarantee you that it will be worth the wait. You have a great deal to do and see and accomplish over the course of this conference, so my remarks will be brief.

As the great leader of the Nez Perce, Chief Joseph said, “It does not require many words to speak the truth.” One of the first things I learned about public service was that the people you serve are more important than the office you sit in.

If you want to know what people think, what drives them, what makes them special and unique, you have to visit them in their communities, in their homes and at their festivals and celebrations.

As Lillian pointed out, several of the first trips I took after being appointed were to “Indian Country.”

In New Mexico I visited San Ildefonso, Pueblo Pojoque and the Tesuque Pueblo.

I’ve also visited Alaska where I had the pleasure of meeting with Elders and members of the Tlingit Haida Tribe and the Ketchican Indian Community.

All over the country, where communities have been allowed the flexibility to run their own child welfare programs through the use of the Title IV-E waiver, we have seen dramatic improvements in the quality of foster care, a reduction in the numbers of children removed from the homes, and an increase in successful reunifications.

I was able to see the tremendous advantage of the IV-E waiver while I was Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, where we saw improvements is just about every area of care as a result of being able to apply local solutions to local problems.

The waiver is a good idea because it allows communities to design and implement child welfare programs including foster care, adoption and guardianship programs that are responsive to your culture, local needs and concerns.

Earlier this year, after much hard work, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe became the first tribal nation to qualify for the Title IV-E waiver. It was my distinct pleasure to attend the signing ceremony along with Commissioner Bryan Samuels from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families. Having the waiver means that tribal children will be able to remain in their community to receive the care and services they require.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is the first tribe approved to do this. ACF now has the ability to sign up to 10 waiver agreements a year for the next five years. I hope to sign many more such agreements with tribal nations.

After my early visits, I was struck by the common thread linking all these communities. That common thread was how important family is, how important culture is, and how important it is to work together to make a better life for all. And that’s why we are all here today:  To work with you to provide training and technical assistance to ensure your communities are more independent, more self-sufficient and more resilient.

Together, we will do that by making sure the programs we have at the Administration for Children and Families fit your needs, not ours. We will accomplish this together by listening to one another in a spirit of cooperation. We will do that by understanding that even though we may have cultural differences, we share a common goal: healthier families, stronger communities, and increased economic opportunity.

I want you to know that ACF is committed to providing a framework for increased participation among Native Americans in the programs and services you offer and for which your clients are eligible. Furthermore, I want to assure you that ACF is committed to working with you to make these programs work for you in ways that make sense in your individual communities.

To that end, please know that this administration is committed to the maximum flexibility allowed by law when it comes to implementing assistance, training and human services programs through your agencies and organizations.

And when we can’t quite agree on the best way to implement a grant or program, please know that you will always find someone to listen to your concerns. We will work mutually to find the solutions that best fit the situations we undoubtedly will encounter.

President Obama, Secretary Sebelius, Commission Sparks and I are committed to the processes outlined in the Tribal Consultation Policy not just because we signed it, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Never before have we had the opportunity to work so closely together for the betterment of American Indian and Native American communities, as well as for those members living in urban areas.

I love the theme of this conference: Integrating PRIDE and Self-Sufficiency in Tribal and Native American Communities. PRIDE, as Commissioner Sparks pointed out stands for Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dedication and Excellence. These are not just words.

They are an affirmation of what ACF stands for and what you can expect from the many dedicated employees in the Administration on Native Americans, ACF and all of HHS.

You know, we so often look across the table or the room and think this or that person is not like me. They don’t have the same color hair, or eyes, or skin. It is easy to see what makes us different on the outside.

What joins every man and every woman of every race, creed and national origin is the natural love of our families and a desire to provide for them the love, shelter and sustenance they need to live fulfilling lives.

For years we lost sight of our shared humanity and instead insisted that we all assimilate and be the same on the outside… How we looked, how we spoke and what we believed. I am so proud to say I am part of an administration that respects individuals for who they are and different cultures for the richness they add to our shared experience.

The most important thing you can to do maintain vitality in a culture is to ensure that its language is strong and vibrant. That it’s used in everyday conversation. That parents talk to their children in the language their parents spoke to them.

It is crucial that we work together through language preservation programs to save and restore as many native languages as we possibly can.

In addition to rebuilding the cultural bonds and languages that bond tribal and native communities, we must continue to work together to bring more economic relief and opportunity to your communities. That means job training, workforce development, expanded child care, access to quality health care and Head Start opportunities for your communities. It is not enough to provide one element and not the others.

It is also important that these programs be integrated with one another and that their application to your needs is seamless.

As I stated, we will work with you, the grantees, to provide an integrated system of support. A system that allows you the maximum flexibility to address the issues your communities face. A system that allows you to use evidenced-based practices that are effective and culturally appropriate.

Sitting Bull, the Lakota holy man and chief explained this concept perfectly when he said, “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”

I am delighted you are here. I think the people you serve will benefit greatly from what you will learn here and the new connections you make and the old ones you will rekindle. You and the people you serve are sovereign peoples but you are part of the American Family. And we will work together to make sure our family is strong.  

I hope you have wonderful conference. Thank you.