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President Obama dodges #NoDAPL question as Native youth question his commitment






Indianz.Com on YouTube: President Obama Dodges Question about #NoDAPL movement and Dakota Access Pipeline

President Barack Obama failed to take a stand on the #NoDAPL movement on Wednesday, a day after Native youth questioned his commitment to their issues.

When asked about the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline at a youth forum overseas, Obama said he has placed a priority on "restoring an honest and generous and respectful relationship with Native American tribes." But he said he didn't know enough about the pipeline to comment even though his administration has been closely involved in the controversial project for at least two years.

"Now, some of these issues are caught up with laws and treaties, and so I can’t give you details on this particular case," Obama said at the end of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Town Hall in Laos. "I’d have to go back to my staff and find out how are we doing on this one."

The comments came after two young citizens of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe questioned whether Obama was living up to his promises to support Indian Country. They noted that the president came to their reservation in June 2014, a visit that both he and First Lady Michelle Obama have repeatedly cited as inspirational.


Indianz.Com SoundCloud: President Barack Obama at Youth Forum in Laos

"We know that he's listening to us but he isn't speaking out and helping us," 12-year-old Alice Brown Otter said at the 20th annual Tribal Leaders Summit on Tuesday. "He said that he'd do anything for us but where is he now?"

"He's not doing nothing for us," Brown Otter said to applause at the summit, which is being hosted by the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Gracey Claymore, 19, shared similar concerns. She was among the group of young tribal members who met with the Obamas, who have frequently shared their experience from the trip with wide audiences.

"I'm truly disappointed in him because he didn't keep his promises to us," Claymore said of the president. "He promised the youth that he would stand with us. He cried with us and he told us how important we were to him. He told us he would stand behind Indian Country no matter what it took."

"And like Alice said: Where is he now?" Claymore added.


Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Alice Brown Otter and Gracey Claymore at 20th annual Tribal Leaders Summit September 6 2016 [Audio courtesy United Tribes Technical College]

Brown Otter and Claymore have been active in ReZpect Our Water [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter], a youth group that organized a series of relay runs this summer. They staged one run to the Army Corps district office in Nebraska that's been handling the Dakota Access permitting process for two years and another to Washington, D.C..

The 2,000-mile journey to the nation's capital culminated with a series of actions. One was a march from the U.S. Capitol to the main Army Corps headquarters, where the youth's insistence on being heard led to a meeting inside with senior officials.

"We just changed a lot of their minds," Brown Otter said of the meeting. "They just started crying. It opened a lot of their hearts and they listened to us. We felt like we mattered again."

But ReZpect Our Water was denied a meeting at the White House even after the Obamas had welcomed the Standing Rock youth to the Oval Office in November 2014. The snub didn't stop the group from holding a rally out front on August 6, an event that drew actress Shailene Woodley, who has repeatedly used her celebrity status to rally the public to the #NoDAPL cause.


Alice Brown Otter, age 12, speaks at the United Tribes Technical College's 20th annual Tribal Leaders Summit in Bismarck, North Dakota, on September 6, 2016. Photo courtesy United Tribes News

Less than three weeks later, the youth were back in D.C., and Woodley, Riley Keough, Susan Sarandon joined a huge rally at a federal courthouse, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe requested a preliminary injunction against the Army Corps in hopes of stopping the pipeline. A ruling is expected by Friday.

"It was the youth who really took the leadership in this," Chairman Dave Archambault II said at the tribal summit on Tuesday. "They were the ones that had a strong voice, a powerful voice."

Even though the tribe only named the Army Corps as the defendant in the lawsuit, the Obama administration has taken notice. A hearing on Tuesday regarding an emergency request for a temporary restraining order drew an appearance from Solicitor Hillary Tompkins of the Interior Department, which is otherwise not involved in the dispute.

When administration officials attend hearings in other cases, they typically take places in a reserved row of seats behind the table where attorneys from the Department of Justice are seated. It's typically seen as a show of support for the federal government.

But Tompkins and her colleagues instead took seats behind the table where the attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was seated.

The courtroom was nearly full, though, and the row of seats behind the DOJ table was taken up by the large Dakota Access team so Tompkins most likely found the most convenient place to watch the proceeding.

Appeals are expected no matter how Judge James E. Boasberg rules on the injunction. But even though the matter is under litigation, the Obama administration plays a major role in determining whether the Dakota Access Pipeline goes forward -- the Army Corps has yet to issue a key easement for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River.

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