YouTube: President Obama Addresses the 2015 Gathering Of Nations Powwow
President Barack Obama reached out to Native youth on Saturday, inviting them the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering this summer. In a video message delivered to the 32rd annual Gathering of Nations powwow in New Mexico, Obama said he was inspired by the youth he and First Lady Michelle Obama met during their visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in June 2014. The historic trip was his first to Indian Country as president. "Their resilience, pride and optimism in the face of incredible obstacles moved us deeply," Obama said of the youth from the reservation, whom he later invited to Washington, D.C., in November. "I know that many Native youth share the same experiences."
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in June 2014. Photo from Center for Native American Youth / Facebook
Obama is hoping that same spirit will return to the nation's capital on July 9, when his administration hosts the inaugural Native youth event. He urged powwow participants to join Generation Indigenous and engage their communities through the Youth Challenge. "We want young leaders to share their stories with our country and to have opportunities to turn their talent and passion into strong leadership for the future of tribal nations and of America," Obama said his message to the powwow, the largest in North America. Applications are due May 8 so Native youth only have two more weeks to complete the challenge. The conference is open to Native youth ages 14-24 from "rural or urban communities," the White House said. The goal is to select some 800 Native youth to attend the gathering, whose theme is "Two Worlds, One Future: Defining Our Own Success." The event will be held at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the Cannon Ball Flag Day Powwow on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. June 13, 2014. Official White House photo by Pete Souza
The youth will meet with administration officials and the White House Council on Native American Affairs, an inter-agency body chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Additional details will be shared as the event approaches, so it's likely the conference will also include a visit to the White House by some participants. "I want you to know that every day that I have the honor of serving you as president of the United States, I will do everything I can to honor the trust we share and to do right by your nations and your people," Obama said. Although Obama wasn't at the powwow, two representatives of the White House were there -- Raina Thiele, who is Alaska Native, and Jodi Gillette, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Thiele works in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Gillette serves as the president's senior advisor for Native American Affairs. "We are lucky to have a president who truly understands the contributions that Native people make to this country, a president who has visited Indian Country, strengthened the nation-to-nation relationship with tribes and deepened his understanding of the struggle and resiliency of Native youth," Thiele said at the powwow.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell met with youth from the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona as part of the Cabinet Native Youth Listening Tour. Photo from Twitter
After the visit to Standing Rock last year, Obama announced he would be focusing more on Native youth during the White House Tribal Nations Conference last December. He directed his Cabinet to go to Indian Country and hear from youth. During the conference, the White House released a Native youth report that outlined many of the challenges facing Native youth. In a speech earlier this month at the Creating Opportunity for Native Youth event, First Lady Michelle Obama linked the obstacles in Indian Country to historical mistreatment by the United States. "Folks in Indian Country didn’t just wake up one day with addiction problems," Obama said, according to her prepared remarks. "Poverty and violence didn’t just randomly happen to this community. These issues are the result of a long history of systematic discrimination and abuse." "Let me offer just a few examples from our past, starting with how, back in 1830, we passed a law removing Native Americans from their homes and forcibly re-locating them to barren lands out west. The Trail of Tears was part of this process," Obama added. "Then we began separating children from their families and sending them to boarding schools designed to strip them of all traces of their culture, language and history. And then our government started issuing what were known as 'Civilization Regulations' – regulations that outlawed Indian religions, ceremonies and practices – so we literally made their culture illegal." "And these are just a few examples," the first lady said. "I could continue on like this for hours."
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