CANNON BALL, N.D. — President Barack Obama on Friday became only the fourth sitting U.S. president to set foot in Indian Country, encountering both the wonder of Native American culture and the struggle of tribal life on a breeze-whipped afternoon on the prairie. Amid snapping flags and colorful, feathered dancers, Obama declared that there was more the U.S. could do to help Native Americans.
Obama drew attention to inroads made by his administration in Indian Country even as he promoted the need to help reservations create jobs, strengthen justice, and improve health and education.
"Young people should be able to live, and work, and raise a family right here in the land of your fathers and mothers," Obama told a crowd of about 1,800 during a Flag Day Celebration at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Citing legendary tribal chief Sitting Bull, Obama said: "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."
The president and first lady arrived by helicopter as native songs and dances at the Flag Day Celebration were already underway. The couple first met privately with tribal youth about their challenges growing up on the reservation that was home to Sitting Bull.
Today, the 2.3 million-acre reservation is home to about 850 residents who struggle with a lack of housing, health care and education, among other problems familiar on reservations nationwide. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reported in January that about 63 percent of able workers on Standing Rock were unemployed.
With Native American poverty and unemployment more than double the U.S. average, Obama promoted initiatives to spur tribal development and create new markets for Native American products and services. The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Friday that it would make $70 million available to improve tribal housing conditions, including money for mold removal.