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