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Heitkamp: President’s Visit Turns Nation’s Attention to First Americans

Heidi Heitkamp’s Office Release
6/13/14

Today’s visit by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to Standing Rock Indian Reservation was monumental in helping turn the nation’s attention to Indian country, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp joined the President on the reservation and helped showcase the tribe’s history and culture, while also discussing ways the federal government can better work with tribal nations to improve conditions, particularly for Native American children. The trip marked the first time a sitting U.S. President has visited Indian country since 1999.

“The President’s trip to North Dakota today was a major step forward in our efforts to elevate the issues facing our Native American citizens to a national level,” said Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “The President and I have had our fair share of disagreements, but I will never question his Administration’s commitment to Indian country. Because of his visit, Americans across the country were able to learn more about the culture and patriotism of Native Americans. They also learned about the deplorable statistics – from health care to crime – that exist in many tribal communities. It is my hope that we as a country will take this opportunity to come together and work on long-term solutions for Indian country.”

While rarely discussed, some conditions in Indian country are staggering, including: 37 percent of Native children live in poverty; suicide rates are 2.5 times the national average for ages 15-34; high school graduation rate for Native students is around 50 percent, compared to 75 percent for white students; and while the rate of child mortality in the U.S. has decreased since 2000, the rate for Native children has increased 15 percent.

President Obama and Heitkamp, along with Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, participated in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s powerful Flag Day Wacipi (Powwow). The ceremony, which Heitkamp first attended in 1984, honors tribal members who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving with the U.S. military. Per capita, American Indians have the highest record of military service among other ethnic groups in the U.S.

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