Obama faces Keystone questions on trip to Indian Country

Obama faces Keystone questions on trip to Indian Country
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visit the Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration in Cannon Ball, N.D. (Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama was honored by Native American tribal singers and dancers on Friday afternoon, but on his first presidential visit to Indian country he also heard from activists who want him to reject the Keystone pipeline project that could pass nearby.

One leader, calling the proposed oil pipeline a “death warrant for our people,” urged Obama to turn down the TransCanada Corp. plan to run the pipeline from Canada, through Dakota lands and down to the Gulf Coast.

Obama must "reject this pipeline and protect our sacred land and water," Bryan Brewer, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe said in a public statement issued before Obama's visit to a tribal gathering in Cannon Ball, N.D.

But an aide to the president said Obama was prepared to offer no new information or assurances, only to report that the State Department is still studying the national security implications of the Keystone proposal.

The agency is trying to “make a national security determination about the wisdom of this project,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. The project has been under review for most of the Obama administration.

Obama didn't address the question during his remarks in North Dakota. He said he has tried to be a president who brings "true partnership and mutual respect" to the U.S. relationship with tribal nations, and pledged to improve economic prosperity and educational opportunities in Indian Country.

Gesturing to his wife, Michelle, seated nearby, Obama said the two of them know what it's like to grow up at times feeling "like we were on the outside looking in.

"There's no denying that for some Americans, the deck's been stacked against them," he said, noting historic discrimination that has hurt some "for generations."


"But if we're working together," he said, "we can make things better."

The visit kicked off a four-day trip for Obama and the first lady, with whom he will spend a weekend in Palm Springs. As he left Washington on Friday afternoon, officials said Obama would remain in touch with national security advisors to stay on top of the situation in Iraq. But Obama suggested in public remarks that there likely would be no U.S. response for several days at least.

So the president remained on his planned schedule to North Dakota, a trip he had promised to make during last year's White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington.

After Obama arrived at the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, a group of singers serenaded him with the "chief song," with a tribal leader addressing him as "Black Eagle," the name given to him by the Crow Nation during the 2008 campaign. He met six students of the only Lakota-language immersion school in the country.

Afterward, Obama was heading to California for some down time with his wife and a little fundraising for Democratic candidates.

Reuters news service contributed to this report.

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