Friday, June 13, 2014

Going Back To The Rez

President Obama will become only the fourth sitting US president to visit Indian Country as he plans to travel today to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas.

Obama is set to become just the fourth sitting American president to visit an Indian reservation. Calvin Coolidge traveled to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation in 1927, three years after he signed the Indian Citizenship Act that granted some Indians American citizenship. Franklin Roosevelt visited North Carolina’s Cherokee Nation in 1936. And in 1999, Bill Clinton also visited Pine Ridge, a little more than a century after U.S. soldiers massacred hundreds of Lakota men, women and children there at Wounded Knee.

The White House says Obama’s return trip to Indian Country will include meeting with young people, and that the president will focus his speech to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on job creation, education and his administration’s commitment to “upholding our strong and crucial nation-to-nation relationship.”

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama also plan on attending the reservation’s annual Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration, which honors Native American veterans.

For some on Standing Rock, the president’s trip is a source of excitement and long overdue acknowledgement.

The last time Obama visited Indian country, as a candidate in 2008, he was welcomed with pounding drums and cheers. “Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans – the first Americans,” Obama told the crowd that day, vowing to improve the health care and educational opportunities of American Indians. The Crow adopted Obama into the nation and into the Black Eagle family, giving him the name Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish or “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”

“It’s just encouraging as heck to have a visit like this,” said David Archambault Sr., a longtime educator from the Standing Rock reservation and father of the tribe’s chairman. “What the president has done is like night and day. Our history shows that it’s as if no one has any compassion for us. We are here and we have resources and throughout history people have wanted to take them from us. And for the first time we have someone looking out for us.”

Frankly the way reservations are treated and have been treated in the US is pretty terrible, but at least the last two Democratic presidents have tried to improve conditions. 

And yes, apparently Sen. Heidi Heitkamp will be on hand to meet the President. 

Heitkamp said she hopes the president’s visit will highlight the rich culture and history of the Lakota Sioux people, but also the tribe’s often invisible suffering.

“Native Americans were not given citizenship until the 20th Century and were only allowed to be able to vote if they renounced their tribal citizenship,” said Heitkamp. “That doesn’t get talked about a lot. For so many years they weren’t even considered American citizens and they’ve been invisible.”

For the better part of three decades since Heitkamp served as the state’s attorney general, she said she has worked as an advocate for Native Americans. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2013 and her first bill was aimed at creating a Commission on Native Children to study the issues disproportionately facing native children, including high rates of poverty, child abuse and suicide. Last month, the bill was passed unanimously in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and moved one step closer to going before the Senate for a vote. She also introduced legislation to help preserve Native American languages and culture.

I hope she has the grace to keep her damn mouth shut about how many problems are on the reservations, especially involving ludicrous rates of domestic violence, after she voted with Republicans to kill President Obama's gun safety legislation in the Senate and again with Republicans to block President Obama's nominee to run the DoJ's civil rights division.  Maybe somebody can include her Senate votes as factors in that study as to why things are so bad on reservations for kids.

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