Secretary Yellen Delivers Remarks on First Visit to Indian Country

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen delivers remarks during a visit to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota on June 21, 2022. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Remarks by Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen during a visit to the Rosebud Indian Reservation

Wednesday, June 22, 2022


The following remarks are prepared for delivery by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during a visit to the Rosebud Reserve, home of the Rosebud Sioux Tribein South Dakota on June 21, 2022. Text courtesy of the Treasury Department.

Thank you very much for this presentation. And president [Scott] Herman, thank you for your generosity and hospitality. It’s great to be here. This is my first visit to Indian Country, and it is important to me to see first hand the beauty of the Rosebud Reservation and to hear about the rich heritage of your tribe. It has also been enlightening to listen to you discuss the profound challenges facing you and tribal nations across the country, and to hear your thoughts on how we can partner to accelerate economic recovery for all tribal citizens. I’ve spent my entire career thinking about economic policy and how it can help people through tough times and create longer-term opportunity. I see many things politicians can do to support tribal communities. Tribes are the backbone of local communities, and tribal governments are often the largest employer of their citizens and residents in surrounding areas. Simply put, reservations can be centers of economic opportunity for millions of tribal and non-tribal people and deserve significant investment from the federal government and our private sector partners. Yet, despite efforts by tribal governments to develop their economies, significant inequalities exist. Many have their roots in earlier federal politics. According to the US Civil Rights Commission’s Broken Promises Report, more than 25% of Native Americans live in poverty. In some tribes, more than half of their citizens live in poverty. For Native Americans living on reservations, the unemployment rate is around 50%. These numbers are unacceptably high.

Indianz.Com Audio: Secretary Yellen Delivers Remarks on First Visit to Indian Country
The past two years have been difficult for everyone, but they have been especially difficult for Native American communities. Tribal communities have had some of the highest COVID death rates in the nation, and data shows few have suffered more than Native American workers and businesses during the pandemic. In addition to the pain the pandemic has caused to tribal families and communities, this disproportionate impact has resulted in the loss of essential tribal revenues that support government services for tribal citizens in need. The US bailout, signed by President Biden in March 2021, has provided much-needed relief, pumping billions of dollars into tribal communities across the country. This legislation led to a historic investment in Indian Country. Our flagship program, the Fiscal Recovery Funds, has provided $20 billion to tribal governments to help fight the pandemic and help tribal households and businesses recover. Tribes across the country, including right here, have used these funds for vaccination efforts to protect their tribal citizens. Some places – like Rosebud – use the funds for affordable housing projects. Others, like the Quechan Indian Tribe, are providing assistance to tribal members who own small businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID‐19. To date, 99% of this fund has been distributed, benefiting 2.6 million tribal citizens across the United States. Other programs have also helped tribal nations recover. Take the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Tribal citizens faced severe tenancy issues before the pandemic, and those conditions rapidly worsened after March 2020. This program allocated $800 million to tribes to help prevent evictions and keep tribal citizens in a safe and stable housing. Early reports show that thousands of low-income tribal citizens have received housing assistance in tribal nations. Here, Rosebud has spent $6.3 million to serve 700 low-income households in need of emergency rental assistance.

Treasury Department Video: Secretary Yellen at Rosebud Sioux Tribe
But the ARP was a milestone not only because of the relief it brought; he also began to expand and redefine the Treasury Department’s relationship with tribal nations. At Treasury, we have taken seriously the charge of using this moment as an opportunity to build deeper engagement and trust with tribal communities across the country. As the Treasury distributed this aid, which totals more than $30 billion in direct assistance to tribal governments, we have made sure to do so in a way that both respects tribal sovereignty and builds on our partnership to meet the economic challenges of the Indian country. We have strengthened our government-to-government relationships with tribal nations. Over the past year and a half, our department has held 15 tribal consultations and over 100 engagement sessions with tribal leaders, as well as individual contact with tribes directly and through related organizations. These consultations serve to strengthen our engagement with national and regional tribal associations and solidify our inter-agency partnerships. We have worked with the White House to better coordinate aid to tribal nations. At Treasury, we have incorporated feedback from tribal leaders into our implementation and distribution of funds. We have seen tribes face unprecedented fiscal challenges due to the pandemic, at the same time as they take on new responsibilities to keep their citizens healthy and afloat. So we designed the fiscal stimulus funds to be able to meet the needs of each individual tribe. We used self-certified tribal data in allocation methodologies, built tribal flexibilities into guidelines, and customized tribal government reports. Our administration of this aid has shown that learning and partnering with tribal nations translates into better federal policy for tribal and surrounding communities. We were able to meet the different needs of different tribes. For example, when you here at Rosebud told us that “a lot of [your] tribal members cannot afford the internet at home,” which “has prevented many children from going to virtual school as well as tribal employees unable to connect remotely,” we worked with you to approve funding for capital projects to improve internet connectivity across the tribe. To date, the Treasury has won $8 million in Tribal Capital Projects Awards. This is just one of the ways the Treasury is working with the rest of the Biden-Harris administration to improve broadband connectivity across Indian Country. Our progress over the past year and a half has only been possible because of a decision we made early in this administration: to ensure that tribal communities have a strong voice inside the Treasury building. When we created the Office of Recovery Programs last year, we created a dedicated Tribal Policy and Engagement team within the office to inform our tribal policy and engagement efforts in the recovery programs. Basically, this team was made up of diverse tribal citizens with previous experience in tribal government, politics, and economic development. And it is on them that I want to end my remarks. Earlier today, President Biden announced his intention to appoint Chief Lynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribe as our next Treasurer. For the first time in history, the name of an indigenous woman will be the signature of our currency. With this announcement, we are making an even deeper commitment to Indian Country: The Treasury Department is establishing an Office of Tribal and Indigenous Affairs, within the Office of the Treasurer, which will be responsible for tribal work across the Treasury. Treasurer Malerba will expand our unique relationship with tribal nations, continuing our joint efforts to support the development of tribal economies and economic opportunities for tribal citizens. Above all, we look forward to working with Tribal Nations and Congress to make this office permanent – ​​so it will be there for decades to come. I promised to visit Indian Country, and I couldn’t be happier to have had the chance to visit you today. Treasury and Administration are deeply committed to a partnership with you. We know that the programs the government is currently implementing are by no means enough to address age-old inequalities and injustices. But it’s a start, and it’s a start that I think we can build on in the years to come. I’m excited to continue this journey – with you – as even deeper partners. Thanks a lot.

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