Obama: U.S. can do more to help Native Americans
President Barack Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Friday, becoming the third sitting U.S. president in eight decades to visit Indian territory.
First Lady Michelle Obama was also in attendance as the two visited an elementary school on the reservation as well as the tribe’s Flag Day powwow.
“Young people should be able to live, and work, and raise a family right here in the land of your fathers and mothers,” said President Obama, speaking to a crowd. “Let’s put our minds together to build more economic opportunity in Indian country. Because every American, including every Native American deserves a chance to work hard and get ahead.”
Tribal leadership was optimistic about President Obama’s visit, but a sense of distrust of the federal government is still prominent among the Native American community.
“The best thing that’s happened to Indian Country has been President Obama being elected,” said Dave Archambault II, tribal chairman of Standing Rock. “I know what the president is making is not going to solve all of our problems overnight. I know that it’s not going to undo all the wrongs that have been done to Native Americans or to Indian Country, but it’s going to inspire a lot of people.”
The administration announced several measures on Friday intended to improve tribal life, including $70 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and an initiative to greatly improve tribal education.
Straddling both North and South Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was established in 1868. As of 2010, the population of the reservation was over 8,200. Unemployment is rampant in the reservation, and a report issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in January placed tribal unemployment at 63 percent.
Although the tribe is facing devastating hardships, President Obama’s actions – including hosting an annual conference of tribal leaders and allowing tribes direct access to the Federal Emergency Management Agency – are a step forward.
“[T]he history of the United States and tribal nations is filled with broken promises. But I believe that during my Administration, we’ve turned a corner together,” said President Obama in an opinion piece for Indian Country Today announcing his visit. “We’re writing a new chapter in our history – one in which agreements are upheld, tribal sovereignty is respected, and every American Indian and Alaskan Native who works hard has the chance to get ahead.”