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North American Indian Days

Talking Points
Espiridion “Al” Borrego
North American Indian Days
Great Falls, MT
July 11, 1997

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be part of such a distinguished panel of experts on veterans issues. This is one of my first public appearances as acting assistant secretary and I am proud that it comes before a group of “first Americans.”

I want to commend Chief Old Person, Lawrence Tailfeathers, state director Poly LaTray-Halms and everyone else responsible for setting aside a day during the celebration of North American Indian Days to recognize the many contributions made by Native American veterans and to discuss the special problems they face in the civilian labor market.

I know that we have support from the new Secretary of Labor, Alexis M. Herman. She is sensitive to the needs of veterans, especially those groups of veterans who may experience difficulties in the workplace because of perceived disability, discrimination, or homelessness.

I have had several one-on-one meetings with her and I know she understands that veterans are an important constituent group; not only with special needs but a group that can make special contributions to our work force and our nation.

We are all painfully familiar with the problems facing Native American veterans – inadequate housing and health care, difficulty in accessing training and good jobs.

Ms. Herman has pledged that all the agencies of the Department of Labor will work for America’s veterans to help them reap their fair share of the rich bounty that our society offers to all its citizens.

But we must also recognize and celebrate the special assets Native American veterans can bring to any organization – a rich diversity of cultural experiences and sensitivities; a commitment to integrating the needs of family with the demands of work; a holistic concept of the relationship between society and the natural elements that support it.

We must do a better job of informing employers that veterans, especially Native American veterans, bring these and many other valuable experiences and skills to the workplace.

Electronic technology, like the Internet, can help us do this. It reduces the distances between peoples, geographically and culturally.

Our veteran service representatives are going to have state-of- the-art computer equipment and the knowledge to use it so veterans can have the opportunity to get the good training and quality, career building jobs.

Just as the Blackfeet tribes gathered every summer from all over the northern plains to observe the Sun Dance ceremony, the Labor Department is gathering good jobs on America’s Job Bank, a network now holding more than 800,000 job listings from all across the nation.

Electronic technology is also improving our enforcement of employment and reemployment rights. We are compiling more data on a real-time basis, sharing it with our state directors, and training our staff to be better investigators and compile better case files.

Next month we will have a user-friendly Internet program so that veterans, reservists, and National Guard members can answer a series of questions and quickly know whether they may have a valid complaint.

By working together, like the plains tribes did during the great buffalo hunts, government agencies can improve their services to veterans and bring us all more efficient government.

VETS has working relationships with the Office of Personnel Management to improve veterans preference for federal government jobs, with the Department of Veterans Affairs to case manage voc/rehab participants and place them in jobs more quickly; and, just recently, with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance to share affirmative action information and promptly investigate instances of discrimination by federal contractors against covered veterans.

These are just some of the ways we at VETS are working to serve America’s veterans. As we move into the 21st century, the needs and aspirations of veterans will be changing as rapidly as the society of which they are such an important part.

Our challenge is to anticipate these changes if we can, meet them when called to do so, and look over the horizon and be ready to serve our customers with the dedication and quality that has come to be the hallmark of VETS.

I look forward to the challenge and to working with you as we achieve success.

Before closing, I want to officially recognize an organization that knows what it’s like to change with changing times – the National Park Service. As the guardian of our most precious natural resources, I want to acknowledge their commitment to making full use of our human resources through the hiring of veterans.

David Mihalic, superintendent of Glacier National Park, will accept this year’s Champion for Veterans Award.

Thank you for your attention.