Previous unconfirmed reports indicated that President Barack Obama would be visiting Indian country in North Dakota this summer. At the time I thought the reservation would probably be Standing Rock – Obama’s senior policy adviser for Native American affairs, Jodi Gillette, is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, where her brother is the chairman – and it turns out that was a good guess.
Standing Rock it is. Specifically, the town of Cannon Ball where Chief Sitting Bull once resided.
I’ll not quibble with the choice too much, but according to the Associated Press: “He’ll announce new initiatives during the visit to grow Indian economies.”
That’s an important topic. The reservation lands are, with some exceptions, epicenters of poverty. Case in point, the unemployment rate on the Standing Rock reservation is 79 percent according to tribal numbers. North Dakota, home to the northern tip of the reservation, the unemployment rate is 2.6 percent (the lowest in the nation). In South Dakota, home to the bulk of the reservation, the unemployment rate is 3.8 percent.
If the President is interested in growing Indian economies, the North Dakota reservation he should have picked is the Fort Berthold Reservation, where about a third of North Dakota’s gusher of shale oil is produced. Not only would visiting Forth Berthold give President Obama the opportunity to discuss Native American issues, but he could also observe first hand the economic spark oil development has created there.
The unemployment rate on that reservation is under 2 percent.
Of course, not every reservation in America is or will ever be near an oil boom, but there’s still a lesson to be learned from Fort Berhtold about what happens when you allow economies to work instead of shackling them to excessive regulation and taxation.
Update: It’s worth mentioning that Rep. Kevin Cramer invited President Obama to visit North Dakota last year, but the President turned him down.
Update: Obama writes about his impending visit at Indian Country Today.