President Obama pledges to improve the plight of poverty-stricken Native Americans during visit to Indian reservation

The White House has promised a series reforms to advance the rights of Native Americans

President Barack Obama has made his first visit to an American Indian reservation since taking office as part of a push to improve the rights of Native Americans.

Mr Obama and his wife Michelle greeted tribal leaders in full feathered headdresses and posed for pictures with tribal children during the visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

It was an unusual trip for the US President, who usually devotes much of his US travel to highlight programs on the broader economy and other domestic policy priorities.

"We can follow the lead of Standing Rock's most famous resident, Chief Sitting Bull. He said, 'Let's put our minds together to see what we can build for our children,'" Obama said during yesterday’s ceremony.

Sitting Bull was a Sioux tribal chief who defeated General George Custer at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Native Americans who live on reservations face low education levels, poor healthcare, a high poverty rate and substandard housing.

 

Mr Obama successfully courted the American Indian vote in the 2008 US election, during which 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 annual meetings with tribal leaders and proposed a budget increase to support tribal communities.

His administration has also settled a number of legal disputes and breach of trust lawsuits by Indian tribes against the United States.

Yesterday, the White House formed new initiatives to help to plight of Native Americans, including reforms for the Bureau of Indian Education, efforts to bring high-speed Internet to tribal schools, and training for teachers.

The administration also suggested ways to ease regulatory hurdles for infrastructure and energy development and initiatives to boost small businesses owned by Native Americans.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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