President Obama planning visit to unspecified N.D. reservation; tribal leaders say they'd welcome him
President Barack Obama is planning to visit a North Dakota Indian reservation next month, the Washington Post is reporting.
Officials from Turtle Mountain and Spirit Lake Indian reservations said they haven’t heard anything from the White House but would welcome Obama if he were visiting. U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp both also told the Herald they don’t have any details of Obama’s trip.
Many are guessing Obama would visit Standing Rock Indian Reservation, located south of Bismarck and partly in South Dakota, because his policy adviser for Indian affairs, Jodi Gillette, is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Attempts to reach Standing Rock officials were unsuccessful.
Another guess is that Obama may also choose to visit the Three Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthold, in western North Dakota, because of the energy industry there.
“It’d be great if he could hit all five reservations,” said Patrick Marcellais, secretary and treasurer for the Turtle Mountain tribal government.
The Washington Post cited unnamed officials in reporting Obama’s North Dakota plans. It said the White House would not comment.
Presidential visits to Indian reservations are rare. When President Bill Clinton visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1999 he was the first sitting president to visit a reservation since Franklin D. Roosevelt visited a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina in 1936.
If Obama does visit North Dakota, it would be for the first time since elected. He spoke at the state Democratic-NPL convention in Grand Forks in 2008 as a presidential candidate.
Issues to address
Hoeven listed several reasons why he thinks Obama’s North Dakota visit is a good idea.
“I think he can learn a lot coming to North Dakota and visiting the reservations,” Hoeven said. “I think it will help him understand our state better.”
Some issues on the reservations that need to be addressed include crime, teen suicide and child abuse, he said.
And if the president visited Three Affiliated Tribes, he could see the energy development on and off the reservation, as well as the infrastructure challenges and needs there, Hoeven said.
“There’s just no place in the country that’s doing what we’re doing with energy,” he said, adding that better infrastructure could make it more efficient.
If Obama visits Turtle Mountain, the state’s smallest reservation near the Canadian border, officials could show him the poverty and unemployment problems there, Marcellais said.
“I would pick his brain for a while,” Marcellais said, because Turtle Mountain leaders are interested in learning about what they need to do to be included in federal aid programs.
At Spirit Lake, Obama could learn about the severe child abuse and needs for social services there, Hoeven said.
“We need to do everything we can to raise awareness at a federal level about the challenges Native American families face and find real solutions,” Heitkamp said in an emailed statement. “Standing up for Native children and families has been and remains one of my top priorities. Anything the administration can do to help support that goal and bring attention to it will go a long way.”
While Spirit Lake officials would want to be open to the president about the poverty on their reservation, they also would like to share their culture with him, said Russ McDonald, Spirit Lake tribal chairman.
“We would do our best to give a picture of our reality,” he said, “but even though we live in poverty, we’re still rich in culture.”
Erich Longie, an educator on Spirit Lake reservation, said, “We would extend our Dakota hospitality. We have wonderful cultures that (the president) could not experience anywhere else in the country.”
Officials of both Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain reservations said they would “be honored” to have Obama visit their reservation.
“It would be an honor to have him on Turtle Mountain, but I don’t know if it will happen,” Marcellais said.
McDonald added that he hopes leaders from all of the reservations are invited to a meeting with the president if he only visits one reservation.