- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The nation’s top law enforcement official said Thursday that the Obama administration is fulfilling federal promises to American Indian tribes, including making reservations safer and prioritizing the resolution of longstanding legal disputes.

“We’re proving that this is an administration that keeps its promises,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told more than 200 people at a tribal conference on the campus of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. “We will not shrink from even the toughest challenges. We will honor our obligations to sovereign tribes. And all of this is only the beginning.”

Holder’s address, which drew a standing ovation, came hours after President Barack Obama announced that he and first lady Michelle Obama plan to visit Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Cannon Ball on June 13. The president said he wants to hear firsthand about challenges facing Native Americans and plans to announce new initiatives during the visit to help grow American Indian economies.

The Justice Department and the Obama administration have worked to “improve public safety, to ensure tribal, and to advance the cause of self-determination.”

The number of prosecutions in Indian Country has increased since 2009 “as a result of closer working relationships with tribal law enforcement partners,” said Holder, who cited a major drug sting on a North Dakota reservation and as one example.

Holder said despite improvements in Indian Country “there’s also no denying that our recent progress has come in the shadow of decades of conflict and injustice - when great wrongs were committed against Indian peoples, all too often in the name of the United States government.”

North Dakota Attorney General Timothy Purdon said Holder’s visit was the first time a sitting attorney general has come to Bismarck since Robert F. Kennedy addressed the National Congress of American Indians in September 1963.

Holder called it a landmark speech. “Attorney General Kennedy marked what he called a ‘turning in the tide’ with respect to the federal government’s relationships with sovereign tribes,” Holder said. “In the decades since then, countless citizens have rallied to ensure that Robert Kennedy’s good words were backed up by good deeds.”

David Gipp, chancellor of the Bismarck tribal college, said in an interview that he attended Kennedy’s address 51 years ago. Gipp, who has headed the school since 1977, said Holder’s visit “is the biggest visit we’ve had at UTTC, and we’re very honored to have him here.”

Gipp, who is Sioux, said the Obama administration, and Obama himself, has lived up to pledges made to American Indians, especially when it comes to tribal sovereignty.

“President Obama has a solid understanding of federal Indian law,” Gipp said.

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