Obama to make first visit to Indian country as president next year

President Obama said Wednesday he would take his first trip to Native American country as president next year while addressing tribal leaders gathered at the Interior Department.

The announcement earned sustained applause from the audience, which includes representatives invited from 566 Native American tribes. Obama last visited tribal lands in Montana as a presidential candidate.

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The president touted steps his administration had taken to help improve tribal life, and heralded the recent formation of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. 

That panel has been tasked with elevating Native American concerns to top administration and Cabinet officials. During the tribal conference, the council is holding listening issues on hot-button issues like sports mascots, crime, and education.

"After I became president, I said that given the painful chapters and broken promises in our shared history, I'd make sure this country kept its promises to you," Obama said. "I promised that tribal nations would have a stronger voice in Washington, that as long as I was in the White House, it would be your house too."

Obama said that his administration was seeking to help and engage tribes through legislation like the updated Violence Against Women Act — the most recent version of which expanded protection for Native Americans — as well as policies allowing tribes to directly request disaster relief.

The president also said that the administration was working to make "sure Native Americans have access to quality affordable health care just like everyone else."

While he briefly touted examples of Native Americans benefiting from ObamaCare, he did not touch on the disappointing initial enrollment numbers released by the Department of Health and Human Services minutes before he took the stage.

The president also said that the government would look to tap the "energy potential of tribal lands in a responsible way."

"This is the foundation that we can build on," Obama said. "This is the progress we can make together."