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Remarks at National Congress of American Indians 2012 Executive Council

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Commerce Secretary John Bryson
Remarks at National Congress of American Indians 2012 Executive Council Winter Session 

Thank you, Matt [Wesaw] for the kind introduction. I’m pleased and honored to be here for this important event.

For more than six decades, the National Congress of American Indians has fought not only to protect the rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives, but also to promote their common welfare.

You have worked tirelessly to build a true government-to-government relationship between the United States and Indian Country.

All of us in the Obama administration take this relationship very seriously, and we are proud to be a partner in the ongoing effort to build stronger tribal economies and governments to improve life for all Native people.

My goal as the Secretary of Commerce is to expand upon the relationship that already exists between the Department and Tribal Nations.

In fact, one of my first appointments after taking office was naming Dee Alexander, a member of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe, as my senior adviser for Native American Affairs.

Dee led the development of the Census Bureau’s American Indian and Alaska Native Policy. She has also been actively engaged in developing the new Tribal Consultation and Coordination Policy of the U.S. Commerce Department.     

We will be conducting tribal consultations this summer and asking for a final review and input on this policy.

I was also pleased to recently reappoint Ron Solimon, a member of Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico to the Commerce Department’s Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.  

As you may know, Commerce is the lead federal agency for travel and tourism promotion, and this board is the Commerce Department’s premier source of industry advice on increasing travel and tourism to the U.S.   

Ron, as you may know, is on the Board of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, among many other engagements.

At the Commerce Department, we have a major role to play at this critical time to support job creation in America.  

Our portfolio includes trade, technology, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development. These are among an array of programs and tools we have to help make our businesses more innovative, more efficient, and more competitive around the world.

That portfolio has expanded significantly since one of the earliest Secretaries was told the office only required a couple of hours of work a day, and no other qualification than to be able to put the fish to bed at night and turn on the lights around the coast.

However, from that Commerce Secretary, to this most recently administration, our core mission remains unchanged: promoting commerce at home and abroad to create jobs and opportunities for the American people.

My focus every day is on putting Americans back to work and helping American businesses and communities continue to create jobs.

My number one priority as Commerce Secretary is to help American businesses build it here, and sell it everywhere.

As President Obama said, we will not rest until every American who wants a job can find one.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we have seen some encouraging economic news in recent months.

Over the last two years, the United States has added 3.7 million private sector jobs, and we’ve seen unemployment drop to 8.3 percent from over 10 percent in 2009.

That’s progress, but there are still too many families hurting and too many people still looking for work. This is especially true throughout Indian Country.

The only way we can build on the encouraging added private sector job numbers is by continuing to empower the private sector to grow, invest, and create yet more jobs.

So how are we working to do this?

At the Commerce Department, we have a host of programs where Commerce and Native American communities are working together to bring jobs and opportunities to Indian country.

Let me give you a few examples:

First, our Minority Business Development Agency–known as MBDA–helps Native American-owned companies in growing their businesses.

Over the past several decades, this agency has worked with approximately 80 percent of tribes and assisted over 25,000 Indian enterprises.  

And clients of MBDA have received, in total, more than $4.5 billion in contracts and financing.   

Today the agency has six Native American Business Enterprise Centers (NABECs) based in Arizona, Alaska, California, Washington, New Mexico, Oklahoma and North Dakota.   

We are currently scheduling tribal consultations on the redesign of this program, this month, and we would welcome your input in the consultation process.

Second, we’re striving to help tribal businesses and all U.S. companies sell more goods and services abroad.

The Commerce Department has the lead federal role in implementing the president’s National Export Initiative, which aims to double exports by the end of 2014.

Exports have become a key driver of America’s economic recovery. They account for nearly half of U.S. economic growth since mid-2009. And, importantly, they support millions of good-paying jobs.

The bottom line is 95 percent of the world’s consumers live beyond U.S. borders.

Despite this vast opportunity, U.S. businesses are not exporting nearly as much as they could.  Only one percent of our businesses export.  Of those that do, 58 percent sell to one market and one market only–most often Canada or Mexico.

That’s why helping more companies export is a major priority for the Commerce Department.

We’d like to see more projects like the one we have with the University of Washington to develop the global marketing capacity of Native American tribes with a focus on tribal forest operations.

It includes a strategic partnership with the Forestry Department of the Salish-Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana. This is currently the only Native American college in the northwest with a four-year forestry undergraduate program.

To help Native American and other businesses locate and capture new markets, the Commerce Department has trade specialists in over 100 U.S. cities and in 77 countries around the world.  

You can find information about this and other federal services at This new website consolidates data from 10 government agencies so that there’s no wrong door to get to the information you need.

Third, the Commerce Department is proud to be a lead agency in promoting the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge.

This is an unprecedented initiative to spur economic growth through public-private partnerships in at least 20 regions around the country.

Last October, the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota, was one of 20 winners out of 140 applications.

The college will receive $1.6 million over four years to implement the Upper Missouri Tribal Environment Risk Mitigation cluster.  This endeavor will work to accelerate job growth and business development, and it includes about 20 tribes.

The funds will be used to provide training and education for about 1,000 people, to support over 100 environmental technician jobs, and to create about 15 new minority-owned businesses.

Investments like these are aimed at driving sustainable economic growth and job development so communities throughout the country can not only survive – but grow and thrive.

And fourth, too many Native American communities lack access to the economic, educational and health care opportunities that come with being connected to the high-speed Internet.

Through our broadband grants investment program, we’ve been tackling this challenge. We awarded grants to six tribal authorities for infrastructure and for public computer center projects, a subset of the more than 60 broadband projects that will directly benefit tribal communities.

This includes, for example, funding to deploy broadband infrastructure in the Navajo Nation, in an area covering 15,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, where many residents lack even basic telephone service.

In upstate New York, where many members of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe lost jobs in auto manufacturing, the Tribe is opening five public computer centers to provide members with tools to compete effectively in the digital economy.

Both of these projects are over one-third complete.

Finally, I want to mention the 2010 Census, and to thank NCAI for its strong support of your “Indian Country Counts Census Campaign.”  

This effort helped educate all American Indians and Alaska Natives on the importance of completing and returning their census forms.

Overall, 5.2 million people, or 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, identified themselves as American Indian and Alaska Native.

This was a 27 percent increase in tribal population over the decade earlier, year 2000 census.

I would like to close by saying, that even though this administration has taken big strides to support economic growth, job creation and tribal nations, we have a lot more work to do.

By working in partnership with people on the front lines–people like you–government can help identify what works and we can build on that.

Thank you for all that you are doing, and I look forward to continuing our important partnership in the months and years to come.