By Justin Sink
President Obama will announce a series of new jobs and education initiatives designed to assist Native Americans during a visit with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Cannon Ball, N.D., next week.
“We need to do more, especially on jobs and education,” Obama said in an op-ed published Thursday in Indian Country Today. “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.”
“Today, honoring the nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Country isn’t the exception; it’s the rule,” Obama said. “And we have a lot to show for it.”
It will be the first visit by a sitting president to Indian Country since 1999, when Bill Clinton visited a reservation in South Dakota. Obama visited the Crow Nation in Montana during the 2008 presidential campaign.
The president's initiatives could resonate on the campaign trail this fall. Democratic officials are seeking to maximize turnout in the midterm elections and Native Americans — who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats — could help the party in Senate races in Alaska, Montana and North Carolina.
“I left with a new Crow name, an adoptive Crow family, and an even stronger commitment to build a future that honors old traditions and welcomes every Native American into the American Dream,” Obama said.
The visit comes as Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), are petitioning the National Football League to force the Washington Redskins to change their team name, which some Native Americans have described as racially offensive.
The president has said if he was the owner of the franchise, he would change the team name.
It also comes after the president signed a series of bills designed to combat crime on reservations, including an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act that allowed tribes greater authority to prosecute domestic violence on native land.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who will join Obama and the first lady on the trip, hailed the visit as “a milestone for Indian Country.”
“This trip will enable North Dakota to show off the rich culture, history, and traditions of our tribes, while also raising awareness about the challenges too many Native American families face, such as extreme poverty and abuse,” Heitkamp said. “I’ve been able to spend a great deal of time in Indian Country over the years and have seen both the community spirit as well as the problems facing our tribes.”