Standing Rock Sioux Tribe welcomes U.S. President for historic visit


Last updated 8/21/2014 at 9:34pm

GRAND FORKD (ND) HERALD/Eric Hylden, Photographer

Making his first visit to a reservation as president, the American leader and the First Lady chose to visit the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. As part of their visit, they attended a powwow, accompanied by Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault and his wife Nicole. The president seemed to enjoy the youth and children the most.

CANNON BALL, ND-U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama made a historic visit to Indian Country on June 13, meeting with youth and attending a powwow hosted by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

The Obamas touched down in Cannon Ball, a small community on the reservation, around 2:49 p.m., not far behind the official schedule.

"I never thought I'd see a president landing in our front yard, you know?" Alycia Yellow Eye told The Grand Forks Herald.

An eager crowd of dancers, drummers, singers, tribal leaders and tribal members patiently waited at the powwow grounds for the Obamas. But the couple first met with a group of youth at an elementary school nearby.

The official schedule had the First Couple at the Cannon Ball Elementary School for less than an hour. But they spent much longer with the youth and got to the powwow grounds later than anticipated.

The meeting was closed to the press but it was clear that it made a strong impression on the president, who later said it felt like they were his "own" children.

The presidential couple eventually made it to the powwow grounds and were accompanied by Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault and his wife Nicole. They were greeted by loud applause as the Grand River drum group performed a "Chief" song for the president.

That was followed by a veterans' song from the Hunkpapa drum group. Then a group of children from the Lakota Language Immersion Nest, a school on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, sang the Lakota national anthem for the Obamas.

A group of youth danced to an inter-tribal song before Chairman Archambault officially introduced the president. He said Sitting Bull, who lived on the reservation before he was killed there, would have been "honored" by their visit.

Archambault then presented a large star quilt to the president and a shawl to the First Lady.

President Obama finally took to the podium shortly before 5 p.m (CT). He spoke for less than 13 minutes but he touched on a wide variety of issues.

"There's no denying that for some Americans the deck has been stacked against them, sometimes for generations," Obama said. "And that's been the case for many Native Americans. But if we're working together, we can make things better."

"So let's put our minds together to build more economic opportunity in Indian Country-because every American, including every Native American, deserves the chance to work hard and get ahead, everybody. That means creating more jobs and supporting small businesses in places like Standing Rock-because young people should be able to live and work and raise a family right here in the land of your fathers and mothers. Let's put our minds together to advance justice-because like every American, you deserve to be safe in your communities and treated equally under the law.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama enjoy meeting Standing Rock children at the Cannon Ball Flag Day Powwow in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on June 13, 2014.

"We've got a long way to go. But if we do our part, I believe that we can turn the corner. We can break old cycles. We can give our children a better future," Obama added. "I know because I've talked to these young people. I know they can succeed. I know they'll be leaders not just in Indian Country, but across America."

The president concluded his remarks. "...But I realize that a powwow isn't just about celebrating the past. It's also about looking to the future. It's about keeping sacred traditions alive for the next generation, for these beautiful children. So here today, I want to focus on the work that lies ahead. And I think we can follow the lead of Standing Rock's most famous resident, Chief Sitting Bull. The president said, "Let's put our minds together to see what we can build for our children."

The First Couple finally departed the powwow grounds around 5:11 p.m. as a wopila, or "thank you song" was played.


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