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Obama lands in North Dakota

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BISMARCK - The president has landed in North Dakota en route to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived at Bismarck Airport in Air Force One at approximately 2:20 p.m. Friday. The couple waved to North Dakota leaders as they descended the stairs, followed by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

The president and first lady were briefly greeted by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and his first lady Betsy, former Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and other state leaders before making their way to a helicopter that transported them to Cannon Ball for the Flag Day Celebration Wacipi.

Barack Obama is expected to making a speech to tribal members later today.

The president’s departure for North Dakota was delayed while he delivered a statement on Iraq earlier in the day.

Obama is the first sitting president to visit Indian Country since President Bill Clinton visited the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in 1999. Before that, the last sitting president to visit a reservation was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who stopped at a Cherokee reservation in 1936 during a trip through North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains.

Friday’s visit is Obama’s first to North Dakota as president. He made two campaign stops in North Dakota in 2008, speaking to crowds in Grand Forks and Fargo.  

The last president to visit North Dakota was George W. Bush, who visited Fargo in 2005 while promoting a Social Security reform proposal. Clinton came to the Grand Forks Air Force Base after the Red River flooded Grand Forks in 1997.

North Dakota as a whole is unfriendly political territory for Obama, who received 45 percent of the state’s vote in the 2008 election and just 39 percent in 2012.

Republicans enjoy supermajorities in both houses of the state Legislature and hold the governor’s office and all statewide offices except that of Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and even she has clashed with the Obama administration over the Keystone XL pipeline and proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

But Obama has enjoyed strong support in Indian Country, garnering 79 percent of the vote in 2012 in Sioux County, which consists of the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock reservation.

In an op-ed piece last week announcing his visit to a North Dakota reservation, Obama wrote that he would announce “new initiatives to expand opportunity in Indian country by growing tribal economies and improving Indian education.”

North Dakota boasted the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in April, at 2.6 percent, but Standing Rock is far from enjoying the same level of economic prosperity. The reservation’s jobless rate currently hovers at around 60 percent and the poverty rate is roughly 40 percent, tribal officials said this week.

Obama’s visit coincides with the Flag Day Celebration Wacipi, a powwow honoring tribal members who have served in the military. The annual three-day gathering during the week of Flag Day began in the 1920s and took on its official name in 1972 during the Vietnam War, according to the tribe’s historian, LaDonna Allard.

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