WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is making his first presidential visit to Indian Country Friday for a look at two sides of Native American life — a celebration of colorful cultural traditions and a view of modern-day conditions on tribal lands.
The president and first lady are scheduled to watch native songs and dances at the Flag Day Celebration at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the border between North Dakota and South Dakota. The couple also will talk privately with tribal youth about their challenges growing up on the reservation that was home to legendary tribal chief 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. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reported in January that about 63 percent of able workers on Standing Rock were unemployed.
Obama pledged to help address the struggles of Native Americans when he was running for president in 2008, the last time he visited Indian Country. The White House said that during remarks to conclude his visit, Obama will recognize that more work needs to be done and will outline steps to improve Native American conditions.
With Native American poverty and unemployment more than double the U.S. average, Obama plans to promote initiatives to spur tribal development and create new markets for Native American products and services. The U.S. 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.
Also coinciding with Obama’s visit, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell plans to visiting Standing Rock to promote a plan to overhaul the Bureau of Indian Education, which is responsible for educating 48,000 Native American students at 183 schools in 23 states but by nearly every measure is lagging behind other school systems. Native American students have low scores on assessment tests and the highest dropout rate of any racial or ethnic group.