With President Obama scheduled to arrive in North Dakota today, eyes of the nation are on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as tribal leaders and community members from across the Northern Plains gather in Cannon Ball for a historic visit by a sitting president and the First Lady.
Obama’s trip to Standing Rock is the first visit to an Indian reservation by a President since Bill Clinton visited the Navajo Nation in 2000. Additionally, it is the first time in U.S. History that a First Lady has accompanied the president to a Native community and celebration.
In an op-ed published by Indian Country Today Media Network last week, the President announced his plans to visit Cannon Ball, which was the home of Chief Sitting Bull, on Friday to participate in the tribe’s annual Flag Day Celebration Wacipi honoring Native American Veterans. Obama said he will announce the “next steps” that his administration will take to support job creation, education, and self-determination in Indian country.
In an exclusive interview with ICTMN, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II discussed the importance of the President’s visit and its significance to native communities across the nation.
“President Obama has been a great friend and supporter of Indian country,” said Archambault, who will also give remarks and present the President and First Lady with gifts from his tribe. “No other President has ever done as much as he has done for Indian people. He is the first to hold a tribal summit every year, where he actively listens to tribal concerns and hears first-hand about the treaties that have been broken. He has put into place at least a dozen initiatives that respect the government-to-government relationship that tribes have with the federal government. We are proud that he chose our community as the platform for this important address.”
In addition to the annual tribal summit, Archambault cited other accomplishments that have benefitted the tribe’s during Obama’s time in office, including Executive Order 13175, requiring consultation and coordination among the federal agencies with the tribes; the settlement of longstanding legal disputes, including Cobell and Keepseagle; increased and expanded accessed to health care for tribal members through the Affordable Care Act; safer communities through the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act; and sustainable economic development through the Recovery Act, among others.
“It’s hard to talk about economic development until we can address some of the issues we have with credit and lending, which are difficult for many people who live on Indian reservations,” said Archambault. “For example, many off-reservation lenders just won’t lend to Indian people simply because of where they live. They are denied even if they have good credit. So the issue becomes, how do we create an environment conducive to credit and lending to get our economies moving?”
To that end, White House officials said Thursday that the President’s remarks “will underscore his commitment to upholding our strong and crucial nation-to-nation relationship, describe his Administration’s efforts to strengthen Native American communities through education reforms and investing in economic development, and highlight the progress that has already been made – working together – to expand opportunity in Indian country.”
Recognizing that “much work remains to be done” in many tribal communities where the poverty rate remains well below the national average and high school drop-out rates remain high, officials said the President intends to take the opportunity to “lift up the remarkable contributions of Native Americans and remind our country of the sacred and enduring bond we share with Indian country.”
In response to media outlets grousing that President Obama should be focused more on “foreign policy” issues than on meeting with “the Sioux Indians” about “jobs and education,” Archambault did not mince words.
“A large number of Native people have participated in the armed forces and this is our first powwow of the year that celebrates their sacrifice to our country,” said Archambault. “The issues that plague our communities are just as important as the Crimea and we can no longer be ignored. I admire him for his courage and bravery to confront the issues that continue to be a problem in his own backyard.”
Tribal officials say they expect up to 10,000 people to attend the events in Cannon Ball, a town with less than 900 inhabitants, according to the U.S. Census. To assist with logistics of the President’s visit, medically-qualified volunteers from the Red Cross will be on site with basic first aid services and water.
The President is expected to speak at approximately 4 p.m. Central Standard Time. Coverage of the event will be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.