WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will pay his first visit as president to Indian Country when he travels to a Native American reservation in North Dakota next week.
In an opinion piece published Thursday by an online tribal newspaper, Obama announced that he and first lady Michelle Obama plan to visit Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Cannon Ball. Obama said he wants to hear firsthand about the challenges Native Americans face and plans to announce new initiatives during the visit to grow Indian economies.
“The history of the United States and tribal nations is filled with broken promises,” Obama said. “But I believe that during my administration, we’ve turned a corner together.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the Obamas will visit on June 13.
Obama said he has worked as president to strengthen justice, infrastructure and health care for Native Americans. But he also lamented high poverty and dropout rates facing Native Americans and said those statistics are “a moral call to action.”
He said tribal nations and the federal government were starting a new chapter “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.”
Obama visited Crow Agency, Montana, as a candidate, but has not returned to Indian Country since being elected president in 2008. He announced in November during an annual Tribal Nations Conference that he was planning a visit this year.
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation straddles the border between North and South Dakota, covering about 1 million acres, the tribe says. Obama noted that as the home of Chief Sitting Bill, the reservation holds a special place in U.S. history.
Heitkamp said last time a sitting president visited Indian Country was in 1999, when President Bill Clinton went to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.