President Obama to visit Native American community in North Dakota


By Rob Port | North Dakota Bureau

RESERVATION HISTORY: Among the Standing Rock Reservation’s historical figures are Chief Sitting Bull, pictured above, as well as Chief Rain-in-the-Face and Marcellus Red Tomahawk whose likeness appears on North Dakota’s state highway signs and law enforcement patrol vehicles.

BISMARCK, N.D. — Confirming an earlier report from the Washington Post, President Obama will visit a North Dakota Indian reservation later this month.

“The President and First Lady’s visit is a milestone for Indian Country and I welcome them to my state,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, said in a press release announcing the visit. “This trip will enable North Dakota to show off the rich culture, history, and traditions of our tribes, while also raising awareness about the challenges too many Native American families face, such as extreme poverty and abuse.”

Last year Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican and North Dakota’s only member of the U.S. House, invited Obama to visit the state, but the president declined, citing a busy schedule.

Obama will visit the town of Cannon Ball on June 13. The community is located south of Bismarck along the Missouri River and at the northernmost tip of the Standing Rock Reservation that straddles the border between North and South Dakota.

According to the Associated Press, Obama will “announce new initiatives during the visit to grow Indian economies.”

The unemployment rate on the Standing Rock reservation is 79 percent, according to tribal data. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the poverty rate among families with children on the reservation is over 41 percent, and over 62 percent of residents there have no high school diploma.

That stands in stark contrast to the Forth Berthold Reservation, which encompasses a significant portion of the state’s Bakken oil fields. About 30 percent of North Dakota’s oil production originates on that reservation, where the unemployment rate is under 2 percent.

Obama’s visit to North Dakota will be the second from his administration this month. Attorney General Eric Holder is visiting the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck to address the 4th Annual Tribal Consultation Conference hosted by U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon.

Presidential visits to North Dakota are rare, and visits to Indian country even more so. The last sitting president to visit North Dakota was George W. Bush, who came to Fargo in 2005 to pitch Social Security reform. The last president to visit Indian country was Bill Clinton, who toured the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1999.

Prior to that, the last president to visit Indian country was Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.

The Standing Rock Reservation is home to a Sioux tribe. Chief Sitting Bull was once a resident of Cannon Ball, as was Marcellus Red Tomahawk, whose likeness is used in logos on North Dakota’s highway signs and state patrol vehicles.

You can reach Rob Port at