It was Obama's first time commenting in detail on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was designed to transport crude across a swath of Midwestern US states, including near two major American Indian reservations. Outside one of them, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, activists have set up camp opposing the project. Members of the tribe argue the pipeline could displace burial ground and other sacred land
Obama, speaking to NowThisNews
after a campaign rally in Ohio, said his inclination was to respect the tribe's concerns.
"As a general rule, my view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans, and I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline," Obama said, explaining he was planning to "let it play out for several more weeks" before coming to a final conclusion.
Proponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline argue the project would safely transport crude from oil-rich North Dakota to other states. But worries over ground water safety and spills, along with the tribal concerns, have led to outcry from an array of environmental and Native American groups.
Obama has personal ties to the affected tribe; he visited the Standing Rock reservation in 2014 with First Lady Michelle Obama and spoke with young people there about working to expand opportunities after decades of neglect by the federal government. He also took in a colorful display of traditional dancing and music meant to honor dignitaries. He was the second sitting US president to visit after Bill Clinton stopped there in 1999.
Despite those ties, Obama had largely avoided weighing in prior to Tuesday's interview. During a Tribal Nations conference in September, he praised Native Americans for their unity on the issue, but didn't expand on his position.
"I know that many of you have come together across tribes and across the country to support the community at Standing Rock. And together, you're making your voices heard," Obama said then.
Speaking Tuesday, Obama pressed for restraint by protesters and police, who have been clashing as law enforcement works toward clearing the camp of activists.
"It's a challenging situation," Obama said. "There is an obligation for protesters to be peaceful. There's an obligation for authorities to show restraint. And I want to makes sure that as everybody is exercising their constitutional rights to be heard that both sides are refraining from situations that result in people being hurt."