We can be proud of the progress we’ve made together. But we need to do more, especially on jobs and education. Native Americans face poverty rates far higher than the national average – nearly 60 percent in some places. And the dropout rate of Native American students is nearly twice the national rate. These numbers are a moral call to action. As long as I have the honor of serving as President, I’ll do everything I can to answer that call. – President Barack Obama
This week President Obama and the First Lady are visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and reservation that spans the borders of North Dakota and South Dakota. This makes him the third leader ever to visit a Native American reservation in their official capacity as President of the United States.
National Relief Charities has partnerships with more than 40 tribal programs on the Standing Rock Reservation. Like all of our Program Partners, they are motivated and working for grassroots change. We wish for them and their communities a meaningful visit with the President and robust returns.
The last time a U.S. President visited Indian country was when President Clinton toured the Pine Ridge Reservation in July 1999 and the Navajo Nation in April 2000. After that, no President visited a reservation for more than 75 years. In the 1920s, President Roosevelt visited Pine Ridge.
For decades, the Pine Ridge Reservation located in Shannon County, SD topped the list of poorest counties in the United States. As of 2012, it ranked number three according to MSN Money, and Ziebach County on the Cheyenne River Reservation ranked as the poorest. Cheyenne River is also in South Dakota.
President Obama says his trip to Cannon Ball, ND is all about the poverty Native Americans face. He hopes to hear from tribal leaders as well as Native youth about successes and challenges they face daily. On June 5, 2014, President Obama wrote in Indian Country Today Media Network that he will “announce new initiatives to expand opportunity in Indian country by growing tribal economies and improving Indian education.”
President Obama acknowledges “the history of the United States and tribal nations is filled with broken promises.” However, he believes the U.S. has turned a corner, upholding agreements with tribal nations, respecting tribal sovereignty, and giving indigenous peoples a fair chance at the American Dream. Still, when it comes down to making the tough decisions about funding, federal shutdown, and sequestration, or projects such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, issues of tribal sovereignty and treaty funding seem to become less clear. Let’s hope this really is a new day that advances tribal self-determination and economies so that every Native American can share in the bounty of America.