CANNON BALL, N.D. — President Barack Obama on Friday became only the third U.S. sitting president in eight decades to set foot in Indian Country, encountering the wonder of Native American culture and the struggle of tribal life. Amid snapping flags and colorful, befeathered dancers, Obama declared that there was more the U.S. could do to help Native Americans.
Obama drew attention to inroads his administration has made with tribes 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 under sunny skies 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.
Tribal government Chairman Dave Archambault praised Obama for helping correct “historic wrongs” involving tribal land disputes.
“If Sitting Bull were here today, he would be honored, as I am, to have a president here talking to us,” he said.
Obama and Michelle Obama appeared delighted as children, adolescents and adults in face paint and costumes stepped to native dances on the reservation’s powwow grounds. Obama nodded to the music and greeted some of the performers before speaking.
Obama, who was adopted into the Crow Nation during his 2008 presidential campaign, said he found common cause with the young people he and his wife met in a reservation elementary school Friday.