In the tiny hamlet of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, President Barack Obama on Friday June 13 reaffirmed his commitment to maintaining the government-to-government relationship that he had struck with America’s Indian tribes during his historic first visit to an Indian reservation since his 2008 election.
As clouds gathered and brutal southeasterly winds pummeled the area where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe holds its annual Flag Day Wacipi Powwow, nearly 2,000 Indian people, tribal leaders, governors and Congressional delegations, including Senator Heidi Heitkamp and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, as well as government officials from both states, gathered to hear Obama’s address.
At roughly 5 p.m. local time, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II thanked the President and First Lady Michelle Obama for taking the time to attend the Flag Day celebration honoring tribal veterans for their well-known service to America’s armed forces. Archambault and his wife then presented the President and First Lady with a red, white and blue star quilt and a ladies shawl.
Afterward, during his remarks, Obama stressed the progress his administration has made during his two terms in office and reiterated his commitment to economic development and education in Indian communities. Additionally, he discussed the settlement of the Cobell Trust case, which led to the government’s Land Buy-Back Plan in which $1.9 billion has been set aside to consolidate individual Indian lands into tribal trust lands.
“We’ve made major investments to help grow tribal economies—investments in job training and tribal colleges; roads and high-speed Internet; energy, including renewable energy. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Native Americans—like all Americans—finally have access to quality, affordable health care,” Obama said. “But I realize that a powwow isn’t just about celebrating the past. It’s also about looking to the future. It’s about keeping sacred traditions alive for the next generation, for these beautiful children. So here today, I want to focus on the work that lies ahead. And I think we can follow the lead of Standing Rock’s most famous resident, Chief Sitting Bull. He said, ‘Let’s put our minds together to see what we can build for our children.’ ”
The president went on to advocate for strengthening the justice system for tribal communities, improving schools and preserving Native languages for Indian children.
“Michelle and I know what it feels like sometimes to go through tough times,” said Obama, who was raised by a single mother and his grandparents. “We grew up at times feeling like we were on the outside looking in. But thanks to family and friends, and teachers and coaches and neighbors that didn’t give up on us, we didn’t give up on ourselves. Just like these young people are not giving up on themselves. And we want every young person in America to have the same chance that we had—and that includes the boys and girls here in Indian Country.”
After his remarks, the President and First Lady greeted and spoke briefly with children and tribal members in the center of the arena before leaving by helicopter for Bismarck, from which Air Force One flew directly to Palm Springs, California.