Ladies and gentlemen:
I want to welcome all of you here on this very special occasion during the Christmas season, and particularly our guests from the western part of the United States who have come from a long way to be with us.
We are here for a bill signing ceremony that has very special significance--the Taos-Blue Lake bill. It is a bill that has bipartisan support. Both Democrats and Republicans joined together to get it through the Congress so that the President could have the honor of signing it today.
And it is a bill which could be interpreted particularly in the Christmas season as one where a gift was being made by the United States to the Indian population of the United States.
That is not the case.
This is a bill that represents justice, because in 1906 an injustice was done in which land involved in this bill, 48,000 acres, was taken from the Indians involved, the Taos Pueblo Indians. And now, after all those years, the Congress of the United States returns that land to whom it belongs.
This bill also involves respect for religion. Those of us who know something about the background of the first Americans realize that long before any organized religion came to the United States, for 700 years the Taos Pueblo Indians worshiped in this place. We restore this place of worship to them for all the years to come.
And finally, this bill indicates a new direction in Indian affairs in this country, a new direction in which we will have the cooperation of both Democrats and Republicans, one in which there will be more of an attitude of cooperation rather than paternalism, one of self-determination rather than termination, one of mutual respect.
I can only say that in signing the bill I trust that this will mark one of those periods in American history where, after a very, very long time, and at times a very sad history of injustice, that we started on a new road--a new road which leads us to justice in the treatment of those who were the first Americans, of our working together for the better nation that we want this great and good country of ours to become.
So I think that in this Christmas season to sign this particular bill which, as I said, might be interpreted as a gift in the Christmas season but actually simply is the rectifying of an injustice, I can't think of anything more appropriate or any action that could make me more proud as President of the United States.
[At this point Juan de Jesus Romero, 90-year-old Cacique (religious leader) of the Taos Pueblo Indians, spoke. Following his remarks the President resumed speaking.]
Now I will sign the Blue Lake bill. We will have replicas of the signing pen for all the people attending the ceremony.
There are quite a few I see here, but being Christmas we have 70 available. But the one that I sign it with, I will present--I think you would all agree, it should go appropriately, rather than to one of the sponsoring Senators who are here, it should go to the spiritual leader of the Taos Pueblo Indians, Mr. Romero.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you will be seated just a moment, I would like to say in conclusion that after the ceremony is over, I understand there are some refreshments available in one of the rooms next door here. You are invited to stay and enjoy some coffee and some of the White House pastries, which they tell me are very good. I am not allowed to have them myself.
Also, I would like to say that I go from here to another ceremony. I will mention it because it seems to me appropriate to put the two ceremonies that I participate in today as President of the United States in their proper perspective.
Today the United States passes $1 trillion in terms of its national economy. That was undreamed of even 25 years ago. And, of course, undreamed of 190 years ago when this was a small country, of 3 million people and 13 States, and very, very poor and very, very weak. We are the richest nation in the history of the world and will remain so.
That $1 trillion shows one side of the strength of America. But today, in the eloquent comments of Mr. Romero, we saw another side, a side that money cannot measure--eloquence, a deep spiritual quality, and the strength that the Indian people, the first Americans have given to America generally in their contribution to this Nation.
I have often spoken of the fact that one of the men that influenced me the most in my college career happened to be my football coach, who was an American Indian. Not because he taught me to play football--I never made the team--but because he had character, strong, indomitable character, and in those Depression years he got into everybody that was on that squad.
I want you to know that to have these eloquent remarks today on this occasion shows us that our Indian people, who are a small part of America in numbers, have made an enormous contribution because they have given great character to so many parts of our country. We are grateful for that.
On this occasion, as we look at that $! trillion, we want to remember that the Indians in the United States of America have contributed something that no trillion dollars could ever possibly estimate. Thank you very much.Note: The President spoke at 11 a.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.
As enacted, the bill (H.R. 471 is Public Law 91-550 (84 Stat. 1437).
A White House announcement, released on the same day, summarizing the bill's provisions is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 6, p. 1690).
Cacique Romero spoke in Tiwa, the language of the Taos Pueblo people. His remarks, as translated by his interpreter, Council Secretary Paul Bernal, follow:
As I am the Indian, my sons and daughters, I want to express myself in my native language to you because the life that I live belongs to the American people, and the American people that live the life, it belongs to the Indian people of this country.
The Blue Lake lies within 48,000 acres. My responsibility for the American people and the country are here in America. I have exercised within my Indian power and my spiritual way to do exactly what I have been told by the forefathers beyond my times.
My responsibilities include all America and its people, and what we have in this good country of ours, like our great father here, the President of the United States, is with us this morning, and my responsibility is to include in my prayers and my daily talks in my spiritual way, include it, because I do believe there is peace within and among ourselves, and we have to find that peace and this is why we are gathered here today.
My dear sons and daughters, we are a foundation with Mother Nature. Mother Nature gives us the opportunity to walk on her blanket, a beautiful blanket that is spread for us to walk in front of destiny, and the sun gives us the light that we will be able to find our destiny when we walk with Mother Nature, and all the great ecology that we have in this country is meant for you and I to enjoy. And that is the way I feel and that is the way I do and that is the way I consider you and include you in my daily prayers.
In telling you the truth I go to Blue Lake with my little package of worship, with the thing that I have to give and offer to the spiritual way, to give thanksgiving of every day of my life for what we have in this country, because this is important and I know myself when I do this it will be included in all the walks, in all the lives of this country.
A new day begins not only for the American Indian, but for all the Americans in this country. The President of the United States is the greatest father that we have. In the decision that he is making including us, we will be able to have a part in this great country of ours.
We have to have a brotherhood; we have to have a relationship; we have to have an understanding. We have to have an understanding that we can get along in this country to do the work, what we are responsible for, us as the leaders of this country.
And this responsibility is more than the material things that we are able to call for, but to protect the life and to protect what in this America is really beautiful, peace, honesty, truth, understanding, consideration. All this I am asking, to restore these feelings back to the Indian people, especially, of this country, who have been a little bit put on the side during the decades.
We cannot look for a living god. We are witness every day and we are receiving the blessing from the sun every day to give us the light and give us comfort. We have been receiving at night the moon to give us the blessing, for us to be rested and we can be able to work the next day. Mother Nature has given us food and strength and opportunity for us to walk in the direction of our desire, whichever way we want to go.
Understanding, in concluding my statement to you, to the father of this country, the President of the United States, Mr. Richard Nixon, I want to thank you. I want to thank each and every one of the American public who are present here and not present, who are away from the White House. We want to thank them. We want them to know that we are appreciating very much.
We want you to know that we are thankful, and we are going to have to celebrate the gift, like the President said a Christmas gift, by the restoring of the Indian native title, by the effort of this White House and the nicest people who have been with us--Congressman Haley, [Senator] Barry Goldwater, Senator Griffin, and Senator Harris and LaDonna Harris,1 and other people, who have sacrificed along with the Taos Pueblo cause, to find a place for the Indian people of this country.
We wish you a Merry Christmas.
1 President of Americans for Indian Opportunity, Inc., and wife of Senator Harris.
We are going to enjoy from here on out a happy New Year every year. And thank you very much.