On Television: Recapping President Obama's "Historic" Visit To North Dakota


On my weekly segment on Valley News Live with Chris Berg we recapped President Barack Obama’s visit to North Dakota last week.

Berg thought it was ridiculous that President Obama couldn’t get Governor Jack Dalrymple’s name right, but I thought that was a bit of a stretch. As someone who often fumbles pronunciations (even when I know the right pronunciation!) I’m not going to get bent out of shape at the President flubbing a name. It happens.

The larger issue, I thought, was how perfunctory President Obama’s visit was. It was billed as historic – just the 4th visit by a sitting President to Indian Country ever – but Obama was on the ground for less than four hours and his speech was just 12 minutes long. After all the soaring rhetoric about a “nation to nation” visit and Obama elevating Native American issues to a prominent stature in American policy, a brief visit and a bland speech was a disappointment.

There was an opportunity to discuss the real problems on the reservation. Like how they manage to have unemployment rates in the 60 – 80 percent range while wedged between two states – North and South Dakota – with unemployment rates consistently under 4 percent. North Dakota, specifically, is screaming for workers.

Why aren’t the unemployed from the reservations coming off the reservations to take those jobs? Why are we so focused on keeping Native Americans on the reservations? I understand the impulse to want to protect Native American heritage and culture – and what a beautiful culture it is! – but that goal and seeking prosperity away from the reservation are not mutually exclusive.

The President could have tackled these issues, but that would have required bold and provocative statements that might not have sat well initially with his audience. So Obama took the path of least resistance.

The Native American communities are a safe bet to vote overwhelmingly Democrat every election cycle. Why, then, should Democrats like Obama and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp (who has made much of her own outreach to that community) do anything but maintain the status quo?