Obama to unveil education proposals on American Indian trip

WASHINGTON Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:19pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington June 12, 2014.     REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington June 12, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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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. It comes just after Obama announced at the White House that he and his advisers were reviewing options to help Iraq deal with an insurgency.

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."

Similar to other domestic trips where he faces protests, Obama may encounter opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline from leaders at the reservation. His administration is weighing whether to approve the pipeline from Canada, which is opposed by environmentalists and supported by industry.

“President Obama must reject this pipeline and protect our sacred land and water. The United States needs to respect our treaty rights and say no to Keystone XL,” said Bryan Brewer of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, in a statement.

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.

The initiatives Obama will announce 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 an administration push 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.

Holder has 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.

(Additional reporting by Aruna Viswanatha and Julia Edwards; Editing by Caren Bohan and Andrew Hay)

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