CANNONBALL RIVER, N.D.— In 2014, President Obama visited Standing Rock and promised that his government would "uphold treaty obligations" and work with the Sioux people in "true partnership" and "mutual respect." Then he made a special promise to the youth: He was going to do whatever it took to provide them with a better future.
Now the Sioux are holding Obama to his word by forcing him to halt the North Dakota pipeline and assure their nation a future with clean water. They're also fighting to make sure the U.S. government keeps that promise, and doesn't discarded it like its countless other empty promises over the years.
“The youth called out Obama, telling him that he promised to help them and that this was the time they needed his help,” said Cody Two Bears, a 31-year-old district representative for Cannonball in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council.
Indigenous youth have been at the forefront of the fight against the multi-billion-dollar "black snake" project. It was youth activists who started the protectors' camp in Standing Rock last April, and who then ran 2,000 miles to Washington, D.C., in August to deliver a message to Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“It's a blessing that our youth are so involved with their spirit in this issue with water,” Two Bears told me.
The tribal councilman says it's no coincidence that Obama chose Standing Rock for this 2014 visit, and is now coming to the community's defense in the final days of his presidency. “Things happen for a reason,” Two Bears said.
The 2014 visit was an important moment for the U.S. government and the Sioux Nation. It was Obama's first visit to a Native American reservation, and marked what indigenous leaders hoped would be the start to a new chapter in respectful "nation-to-nation" relations.
“I feel Obama has kept his promise to our people and I thank him from the bottom of my heart coming from the Cannon Ball Community and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,” said Councilman Two Bears.