John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks to Representatives of the National Congress of American Indians.

March 05, 1963

I WANT to express our thanks to Walter Wetzel and to the National Congress of American Indians. This problem, which is an opportunity and a challenge for us all of making sure that the American Indians have every chance to develop their lives in the way that best suits their customs and traditions and interests, is a matter which has been of concern to the Government of the United States for many years.

Receiving you, as representatives of the Indian tribes, I am carrying on a tradition begun by George Washington and, really, in a sense, continued by every President of the United States. The matters which have concerned us most directly in the last 2 years have been the question of education on the secondary and elementary level.

I know that when I first took this office, one of the things which concerned us most was the fact that there were nearly 5,000 Indian boys and girls who had no school to go to. Now we built classrooms for about 7,000 in the last 2 years.

Another problem, which is of still constant concern, is the number of American Indians who are out of work, who are unemployed, who haven't had a chance for gainful employment. We have done something about this through the ARA, through other programs, through public works programs, but not enough. This is still a very great challenge for us all.

We have also increased the number of Indians who are going on to higher education and technical schools, but still not enough. This is, obviously, the most important road to progress--secondary, primary, and higher education. And this is a matter which should concern us in the coming months.

I am delighted to have you here as the chosen representatives of your people. The American Indians hold a romantic grip on our imaginations, but I hope that they also hold a practical grip upon our efforts. And I can assure you that your visit here is a useful reminder to us all of our responsibilities to some of our most distinguished and in a very real sense first citizens. We are glad to have you here.

I want to thank all of you for coming. You have been very generous and we appreciate all the presents and we will try to make sure that your visit to Washington brings useful results. So, we are very glad to welcome you here.

I remember there is a picture of Abraham Lincoln welcoming your predecessors to the East Room and I am delighted to welcome you to the Rose Garden 100 years later.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at noon in the Flower Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks he referred to Walter Wetzel, president of the National Congress of American Indians.

The group of Indian chiefs and tribal leaders, representing about 50 tribes, was meeting in Washington to persuade Congress to enact legislation that would require the consent of the Indians before the States could assume jurisdiction over reservations.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks to Representatives 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