By Justin Sink
President Obama said relations between the U.S. government and tribal leaders were "stronger than ever" during his first visit to Indian Country since becoming president.
The president and first lady toured the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, meeting with tribal leaders and youth. The Obamas participated in a powwow honoring Native American veterans, observing a succession of dancers in ornate, colorful costumes.
"Let's put our minds together to build more economic opportunity in Indian country," the president said.
"We want every young person in America to have the same chance that we had," Obama continued. "That includes the boys and girls here in Indian country."
Some 63 percent of workers on the reservation are unemployed, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs data provided to the Associated Press. Overall, Native American poverty and unemployment rates fare outpace the U.S. average.
"Every American, including every Native American, deserves the chance to work hard and get ahead," Obama said.
The administration on Friday announced a series of executive actions designed to improve conditions on reservations, including $70 million in Housing and Urban Development funds designed to help improve living conditions.
The administration will also move to increase tribal control of schools and provide additional funding for their academic programs. As part of that initiative, Verizon has agreed to provide free Internet access for the next two years to 10 dorms where more than 1,000 children live while attending public schools outside their reservations, according to the White House.
The administration is also moving to streamline the approval process for infrastructure construction on reservations, in the hopes of easing construction of transmission lines and broadband access.