WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Barack Obama was honored by Native Americans Monday as an adopted son and a leader who has kept his promises.
At the 8th Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, the president enjoyed a jubilant welcome from representatives of 567 federally recognized tribes, taking part in a traditional Native American honoring ceremony.
Leaders wrapped him in a fire red wool blanket, a gift, and crowned him with a straw hat. Obama joked that he is glad the tribal leaders also gave a blanket to first lady Michelle Obama, saying otherwise she would steal his.
When the president held the first tribal nations conference in 2009, he vowed to be a partner in the spirit of a true nation-to-nation relationship.
Obama said he is proud of his record.
“We haven’t solved every issue; we haven’t righted every wrong, but together we’ve made significant progress in almost every area," the president said. "Together we’ve permanently protected sacred lands for future generations. We’ve restored more than 428,000 acres of tribal homelands to their original owners.”
Despite all the affection, the president acknowledged there is one contentious and unresolved issue that has sparked a resurgence of Native American protests - the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline. It would cross four states and go from North Dakota to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued to block construction of the pipeline, citing concerns about potential water contamination and destruction to culturally sacred sites.
Their leader, Dave Archambault, told VOA their concerns are simple: “It is to protect our water, protect our ancestral sites, protect our children, even the ones that are not here yet, and stand up with our sovereign rights.”
A federal judge in Washington denied the Standing Rock tribe's request for a temporary injunction to stop construction of the pipeline. But the Justice Department, the Interior Department and the U.S. Army intervened earlier this month with an unprecedented joint statement requesting that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity near an important lake.
Obama said that many of the participants had come together from across tribes and across the country to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and that they have made their voices heard. He said he hopes he will leave a strong legacy for the next U.S. president of consulting with tribal leaders on all matters that impact Indian country.