Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to Members of the National Congress of American Indians.

January 20, 1964

Mr. Secretary, Mr. Wetzel, Members of Congress, my friends:

I am glad to meet here with you this evening in this historic house that belongs to all America. I regret very much that I was delayed by other meetings that were unavoidable and I am only happy that I finally got here.

I appreciate what Mr. Wetzel has said about your views and the recommendations that he has made. I always think it is better to be affirmative and constructive than to spend all the limited time we have talking about things that we have not done.

I am particularly proud that there are Members of Congress who have labored diligently in the vineyard through the years to improve conditions among you that would take time from their tasks to come here this afternoon.

You know a good Congressman is one who represents the people of his district faithfully and well. But a congressional district is a very small part of all the world. The United States is a very small part of all the world. We are outnumbered in the world 17 to 1, yet we have a very special responsibility for leading it.

A great Congressman is not one that just looks after his own district, but looks after people everywhere and has a concern for humanity and welfare of all human beings. So I think by their presence here this afternoon we show the good and the great. They have come to see what we can all do together to make life better for all of us.

Now both in terms of statistics and in terms of human welfare, it is a fact that America's first citizens, our Indian people, suffer more from poverty today than any other group in America. That is a shameful fact.

Family income of the 400,000 Indians on reservations is less than one-third of the average income of the United States. The average unemployment rate, as you were told, is nearly 50 percent and reaches as high as 85 percent. Only 10 percent have housing that meets minimum standards of availability. The average young adult has only an eighth grade education. The high school dropout rate is 60 percent. The average age at death of an Indian on a reservation is 42 compared with the national average of 62.

Now all of these are reasons why I have directed that in our attack on poverty program we put our Indian people in the forefront.

As a beginning, I am pleased to announce today by far the largest Indian housing program in the history of the United States. I am informed by Administrator Bob Weaver, who is present, and Commissioner Nash that they have approved the construction of 3,100 new homes on 50 reservations in 17 States to be built through a cooperative effort of the Indian Bureau and the Housing Administration.

This program, properly followed up, will do much to assist in correcting health problems and educational problems. Other programs bringing industrial plants to reservations, developing timber and minerals and other resources of the reservations are additional weapons in this fight against poverty. These require credit assistance; these require vocational education. The established programs for loans and education will be expanded. Accelerated public works has furnished 34,000 man-months of employment beginning last winter in the fight against unemployment on reservations.

Results are the improved livestock range, forest lands, new roads, community centers. To the members of the National Congress of American Indians, symbolically representing all Indians on reservations, I pledge a continued effort to eradicate poverty and to provide new opportunity for the first citizens of America.

When I addressed the Congress, shortly after I was sworn in, I said I would give all that I have not to be here today. But I am here today and I do have a responsibility for the Government of this country. I share that responsibility with good and great men in three separate independent branches of Government, but so far as the Executive can lead, it will be in this direction; first, the direction of a strong America, because we must be secure in a dangerous world.

We must always be strong enough to prevent war and wise enough to avoid it. So a great deal of our family budget is going to be spent in making this Nation secure. And along with the importance of security to the Nation is solvency of the Nation, because wastrels and squanderers and people who are not concerned with the value of the dollar cannot long remain secure.

If we are drained of our gold, if our dollar is inflated, if we have unemployment among us, if our national income drops, then we will lack the tanks and the planes and the missiles that we must need to be secure in this kind of a world. So solvency must be a matter of national pride and national concern, but it does little good to be strong and to be solvent, if we ignore the human needs of our people.

We must be strong and we must be solvent in order that we can be compassionate, because every Congressman standing here today, when you ask him what he would like to be remembered for, my judgment is he would like to be remembered for what he did for people, what he did for folks, what he did to make life better and more enjoyable and more prosperous and more rewarding for human beings.

We have much in this world to protect and much to preserve. I remember when I was a young Congressman, 27 years of age, I stood on the steps of a train to come to Washington for my first time as a Congressman and my father, who had been many years in legislative service, said to me then: "Son, measure each vote you cast by this standard: Is this vote in the benefit of people? What does this do for human beings? How have I helped the lame and the halt and the ignorant and the diseased? See if this vote is generally for humanity. And there will be times when good arguments will be made both pro and con. And you won't know what to do. When that time comes, I suggest that you watch how Wright Patman of Texas votes and then follow him, because while Wright gets off the reservation every now and then, he always gets off thinking he is voting for human beings."

And I did that and I am rather proud of my voting record and I think that a government that is compassionate can always be proud and the Good Lord Almighty has blessed us with a bounty that excels that of any other nation in the world. Only six nations in the world have anything like the standard of income that we have and they are small; Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland. They are the only nations that make as much as $80 a month. We lead the entire world with more than $200 a month.

So we have an opportunity to follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And it is a shameful fact that poverty stalks the Nation and that we have done so little about it. But, God willing, and with the support of the American people, the members of both parties, all of whom were elected on a platform of doing what is right although they approach it in different ways sometimes, we are going to try to eradicate as much poverty from our midst as possible.

No one thinks we can wipe it out. No one thinks that we can with a stroke of the brush do away with it. But it is a goal and it is a target. So this year instead of adding $5 billion to the budget as we did last year and as we did the year before, we started with a budget of $98.8 that Congress approved last year, the President requested it. We could have added 5 making $103.8, but in our judgment that would not have given us the solvency we need to be able to do the things that must be done.

So we started eliminating any waste that we could find, any place we could find it. Oh, they laughed because we eliminated or took away 186 Cadillacs and just allowed a few for Cabinet officers and the President and cut it down to 20 some odd. Now that didn't save much, but it set an example and it saved some. One Cabinet meeting met on Tuesday and they reported back on Friday and they reduced their budget $800 million in 3 days!

So those things can be done and we are following up on them. Until, finally, we cut the Department of Defense in antiquated establishments that were not giving us any added combat strength. We cut a billion dollars out of the Department of Defense budget and that permitted some money for poverty. We got just $300 million in, but that's a start. And where there's a will there's a way.

We are going to hope that the cities will help, and the States will help, and the counties will help, and the foundations will help, and the charitable agencies will help, and the neighbors will help, and the Federal Government can, at least, put its stack in on compassion and doing something for human beings.

Now you have a program here. I will study it carefully. I will ask my counselors, the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Udall, who is doing a wonderful job, I will ask him to make recommendations on it and we hope that when we meet here again in the East Room, or by the side of the river, that we will have come a long way, we will have bettered the lot of our fellow man, we will have improved his standard of living, we will have attacked the problem of illiteracy among his children and disease among those he loves best, and poverty.

These are the ancient enemies of mankind, and the Johnson administration has declared war on it and we are going to do something about it.

Note: The President spoke in the East Room at the White House at 4:30 p.m. In his opening words he referred to Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall and Walter Wetzel, president of the National Congress of American Indians. Later he referred to Robert C. Weaver, Administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency, Philleo Nash, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and U.S. Representative Wright Patman of Texas.

The group of approximately 200 persons, including many Indians, was in Washington attending the annual meeting of the executive board of the congress, an organization concerned with the betterment of the American Indians and the promotion of legislation in their behalf.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to Members of the National Congress of American Indians. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives