Obama Takes A Trip To A Sioux Indian Reservation

President Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. NPR's Scott Simon talks to Scott Davis, director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, about his visit.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation yesterday on the border between North and South Dakota. At a celebration honoring Native American veterans, he quoted the tribe's best-known member - Chief Sitting Bull.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He said, let's put our minds together to see what we can build for our children.

(APPLAUSE)

SIMON: The president then emphasized his commitment to improving education and creating economic opportunities in Indian Country. Standing Rock has many of the same concerns as reservations across the country including a lack of jobs, health care, alcoholism and suicide. Scott Davis is the director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. He joins us now from Cannonball, North Dakota. Mr. Davis, thanks so much for being with us.

SCOTT DAVIS: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure joining you today.

SIMON: What does a visit from the president mean to you and other folks there at Standing Rock?

DAVIS: Well, from - I think from a leadership perspective, you know, it's respect to our tribal leaders. I think for our youth, obviously it's hope. I think it's inspiring our young that someday, maybe they could be a president. You know, our elders - probably the most important - you can just see it in their eyes, the sparkle, the excitement.

SIMON: I gather the president met with a group of Native American youth . Can you give us an idea of what they said to him about their concerns and challenges growing up on the reservation?

DAVIS: Sure. You Know, I can only speculate what was talked about, but I think what the president wants to know is what's it like growing up here. You know, are you going to college? Do you have a father in your home? Do you talk your native language? Do you play sports? We have such talented athletes in our tribe. So yeah, I'm sure they had a good conversation.

SIMON: President Obama announced a plan to overhaul the Bureau of Indian Education. What would you like to see done there, Mr. Davis?

DAVIS: We all agree that it is time for our tribe to take over education systems - run it, teach it the way we want to be taught, which I ultimately believe is going to create higher graduation rates, retention rates and more college graduates. So it's really the foundation of self-determination.

SIMON: Mr. Davis, I want to take the opportunity for you to tell us just two or three things you think can be done over the next - let's say two years - to make life there better.

DAVIS: Well, two things for sure is, you know, the tribe took a huge step last week in passing the UCC code, the Uniform Commercial Code. You know, what that means is it created a huge open economic door - the beginnings of tracking more outsider businesses, investments for native-owned entrepreneurs. The second part, I think, is the Affordable Health Care Act. For us as Native Americans, I feel that it's a true fulfillment, you know. When we gave up our lands decades ago, there was an agreement made - treaty. It's a law that one fulfillment would be health care.

SIMON: Do you hope the kids you hope to send off to the college will come back to Standing Rock?

DAVIS: Well, that's always - that's kind of been instilled in our DNA, if you will. The same message as always. You know, go away, get your education. Come back and help your people. I think we're at a time where we are graduating enormous numbers of doctors and lawyers, professionals - something I hope our ancestors, I'm sure, are looking down upon us and smiling, knowing that change is coming.

SIMON: Scott Davis is director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. Mr. Davis, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DAVIS: Thank you very much, sir.

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