Obama makes first visit as president to 'Indian Country'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Barack Obama left Washington on Friday for his first visit as president to a Native American reservation, as he seeks to fulfill what he has called America's "broken promises" to Indian Country.

The president, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, will pay a visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, the tribe of Sitting Bull, the Indian chief famous for his brave exploits in the Battle of Little Bighorn.

In an op-ed that appeared in a Native American newspaper last week, Obama vowed to redouble his administration's efforts to improve employment, education and self-determination in Native American communities.

"As I've said before, the history of the United States and tribal nations is filled with broken promises," Obama wrote.

"We're writing a new chapter in our history, one in which agreements are upheld, tribal sovereignty is respected, and every American Indian and Alaskan Native who works hard has the chance to get ahead," the president wrote.

Obama said that although Friday's visit to the reservation is his first as president, he has maintained close working relations with tribal leaders, including holding an annual Native American summit at the White House.

During Friday's visit, he wrote, "I'll announce new initiatives to expand opportunity in Indian country by growing tribal economies and improving Indian education." "We can be proud of the progress we've made together. But we need to do more, especially on jobs and education," he added in the op-ed.

The president noted in his article that Native communities struggle with some of America's most crushing rates of poverty and illiteracy.

"Native Americans face poverty rates far higher than the national average - nearly 60 percent in some places. And the dropout rate of Native American students is nearly twice the national rate," he said.

"These numbers are a moral call to action. As long as I have the honour of serving as President, I'll do everything I can to answer that call," Obama wrote.

Prior to his election as president, Obama while on the campaign trail visited a Montana reservation that is home to the Crow Nation, one of dozens of registered Native tribes in the United States.