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OUR OPINION: Come visit Grand Forks, President Obama

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opinion Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Astoundingly, those two occasions mark the full extent of presidential visits to American Indian reservations in something close to 100 years. So, it’s terrific that President Barack Obama apparently is planning to visit a reservation in North Dakota this summer, as the Washington Post reported last month.

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Such visits by presidents should be common, not rare, considering the extent of the U.S. government’s involvement in and responsibility for reservation life.

But such a visit also would mark the first time Obama has set foot in North Dakota as president. And given that fact, Obama really ought to take time to visit other parts the state — because out of all 50 states, none has changed more across the length of Obama’s presidency than North Dakota has.

North Dakota is a different place than it was in 2008, the president’s first election year.

And a visit to Grand Forks would help Obama see and absorb the full extent of that change.

So, let this editorial serve as an invitation for President Obama to stop by Grand Forks on his visit to North Dakota. Other cities and towns probably would rank higher on his priority list, once the president decided to venture beyond the reservation’s boundaries. In particular, Williston and the Oil Patch are can’t-miss attractions these days, even for many North Dakotans themselves.

But Grand Forks also should be a stop on the president’s tour. The U.S. government played a huge role in the rebuilding of Grand Forks after the 1997 flood; if the president needs reassurance about the efficacy of key federal programs, Grand Forks can show him flood recovery when flood recovery is done right.

Another hour or three could be spent touring the city’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems sites, given that the research into and use of that futuristic technology is more advanced here than almost anywhere else.

Last but not least, the Red River Valley’s economy surely is worth some of the president’s time. There’s less unemployment in Grand Forks than almost anywhere else in America — and that fact predates the oil boom, as it does in Fargo, too.

Why? What factors helped immunize these cities against the worst of the recession and keep construction cranes swinging to this day?

The challenges in Indian country are profound and demand the president’s focused attention. But success stories are part of North Dakota’s recent history, too, and they can be found both on the reservations and off.

In short, President Obama would be welcome in Grand Forks if he were to come. And he’d return to Washington with a much fuller picture of one of America’s most fascinating states.

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