By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday will make his first visit to an American Indian reservation since entering the White House on a trip to unveil new measures aimed at boosting education and economic opportunities for indigenous people.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, will travel to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to show the administration’s commitment to “upholding our strong and crucial nation-to-nation relationship,” the White House said.
During the visit the couple will meet with tribal leaders and young people before attending a ceremony that honors Native American veterans with dance and song.
The trip is unusual for Obama, who has devoted most of his U.S. travel to highlight programs on the broader economy and other domestic policy priorities.
Obama courted the American Indian vote as a White House candidate in 2008. He became an honorary member of a tribe in Montana, the Crow Nation, and took on a native name: Black Eagle, which means “one who helps all people of this land.”
Since entering office Obama has hosted meetings with tribal leaders every year and proposed a budget increase to support tribal communities. His administration has also settled a series of legal disputes and breaches of trust lawsuits by Indian tribes against the United States.
“We can be proud of the progress we’ve made together. But we need to do more, especially on jobs and education,” Obama wrote last week in an opinion piece announcing his trip.
“As I’ve said before, the history of the United States and tribal nations is filled with broken promises. But I believe that during my administration, we’ve turned a corner together.”
The initiatives Obama will announce on Friday include reforms for the Bureau of Indian Education, efforts to bring high-speed Internet to tribal schools, and training for teachers.
He will also propose ways to ease regulatory hurdles for infrastructure and energy development and initiatives to boost small businesses owned by Native Americans.
The trip is part of a recent push by the administration to advance rights for Native Americans.
Last week Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to North Dakota to meet with a tribal consultation conference where he spoke of increased prosecutions of crimes against American Indians and expanded outreach to tribes across the country.
On Monday Holder proposed requiring voting districts to place at least one polling site on tribal land within their territory and said action was necessary to improve voting access for American Indians. [ID:nL2N0OQ142]
The agency’s No. 3 official Tony West has also spent the past week in Alaska, meeting with the National Congress of American Indians. On Wednesday he announced support for giving Native Americans in Alaska the ability to issue and enforce domestic violence protection orders. The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act had largely exempted that group.
The 2013 law also gave tribes the ability to prosecute non-Indians who assault Indian spouses or partners.
(Additional reporting by Aruna Viswanatha and Julia Edwards; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)