THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the First Lady
_____________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release                                    February 9, 2009


U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C.
2:25 P.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA: Well, I have to say I am completely humbled and moved by all of you, by the Black Bear Tribal Group. We have to give them another round of applause -- (applause) -- for that inspiring performance, for the beautiful shawl. Thank you, Nedra, thank you so much for the prayers. It means so much to me. It means so much to my family. And I want to thank you for that beautiful sign there in the back. It's a small sign. (Applause.) It's hard to read, but -- (laughter).

And I also want to acknowledge these wonderful workers, folks who have been in this department longer than I've been alive. (Laughter.) I mean, that is amazing. And they don't look it. There's no way, by looking on this stage, that you can tell that people have devoted their careers, lifetimes, more than lifetimes -- I know there's some people in this audience who haven't been born half the time that they've been working here, and they are amazing and true representatives of what government work is all about. And it's one of the reasons why I'm here -- to say thank you, not just to the folks on this stage, but to all of you.

I want to thank Secretary Salazar, who has been a unique and wonderful friend. He is correct; he and his wife, Hope, were two of the first people we met when Barack joined the United States Senate. And they showed us a level of kindness that we will never forget, and we are proud for his contribution to this country. He brings the department a lifetime of experience protecting our natural resources, promoting clean energy, and standing up for rural communities. And we could not be more pleased -- could not be more pleased -- to have him as a part of this administration. You are lucky to have him as a leader. (Applause.)

So this is the third agency that I visited since we've arrived, and each of the agencies that I've seen have had a different flavor. It's been such a great way for me to get to know our new community and to meet you, our new co-workers and our new neighbors.

I know that this is an important time of reform and renewal here in this department. And as you begin the work -- the hard work -- of taking this department into a new era of excellence, I wanted to come by, again, to simply say thank you. Thank you for your service to this nation. It's a simple message, but it's one that we think is important to deliver.

The issues that you're working on, as you know, affect us all. They affect you, they affect your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your neighbors. And as public servants and stewards of some of America's greatest assets, from our parks and forests to mountains and rivers, you're charged with the sacred task of ensuring that America's resources are used responsibly and protected for future generations.

Some of the greatest adventures that we experience in life here in this nation –- like family vacations, and camping, and hiking, and fishing, if you're blessed to have access to those resources -- are possible because of the work that you do right here in this department.

And Barack and I and the girls, as you may have read, just had a little retreat away. We visited Camp David for the first time, and got to experience the beautiful -- the beauty of those grounds, and it was just wonderful to get a bit of a break and to spend some quality time as a family in nature.

You are also, in addition to helping make those experiences possible for our family, you are at the center of this administration's highest priorities: securing America's energy future -- Barack has talked about it time and time again; protecting its natural environment; and using the natural resources, again, as responsibly as we can.

These aren't only vital for the survival of our planet as we work to combat climate change, but also incredibly important to strengthen our economy and the well-being of our families. At a time when so many Americans are out of work, sound energy and environmental policies are going to help create thousands of jobs through the economic recovery and reinvestment plan that Barack is out there promoting today.

And for those of you focused on meeting the federal government's obligations to the Native Americans, understand that you have a wonderful partner in the White House right now. (Applause.)
Barack has pledged to honor the unique government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government. And he'll soon appoint a policy advisor to his senior White House staff to work with tribes and across the government on these issues such as sovereignty, health care, education -- all central to the well-being of Native American families and the prosperity of tribes all across this country. So there is a lot of work to do -- a lot of work. And we have great leaders in Secretary Salazar and in President Obama. I love to say that. (Applause.)

But what's important to remember that we will never forget -- never can forget is that great leaders are only as great as the people who hold them up. (Applause.) So that is why I'm here. (Laughter.) We're counting on you all. (Laughter and applause.) We're at the beginning of what will be a lot of work, a long journey, and we're going to need one another, not just here in Washington but we're going to need one another across this country.

So before we start that hard work, Barack and I want to thank those of you who have been here long before you ever heard of Barack Obama, working tirelessly to keep this country sound. Thank you for the work that you've done. Thank you for the work that you're going to do today and in the future. We are all neighbors in this effort. And together we can get a lot of things done.

So on behalf of my husband, my girls, thank you for the warm welcome that you've offered us to Washington. And let's get some good things done. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

END 2:33 P.M. EST

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