Native youth arrive in nation's capital for historic White House gathering

Native youth in North Dakota accepted the Generation Indigenous challenge. They cleaned up damage from a recent storm and planted a garden at the Ruth Meiers House in Bismarck. Photo from North Dakota Indian Affairs / Twitter

Hundreds of Native youth are arriving in Washington, D.C., to take part in the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering.

More than 600 youth, representing all segments of Indian Country, accepted the Generation Indigenous challenge and developed projects to make a difference in their reservation, urban and Alaska Native communities. They will share their successes at the historic event tomorrow, when they will be welcomed by First Lady Michelle Obama and nearly a dozen Cabinet members.

"We are making history at the White House Tribal Youth Gathering for being the first group to actually sit down with federal agencies to discuss issues that are affecting us directly in our communities," Tyler Owens, a member of the Gila River Indian Community of Arizona who is helping to organize the event, said in a welcome video for participants.

Youth from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota held a walk to raise awareness about suicide as part of the Generation Indigenous challenge. Photo by Vi Waln / Lakota Country Times

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro are among the Cabinet officials who will talk with Native youth about health, public safety, technology and other key issues. Participants also will hear from JJohn Herrington, an astronaut from the Chickasaw Nation who was the first enrolled tribal member to fly in space, and Cheyenne Brady, who serves as the current Miss Indian World.

But the highlight of the day-long gathering will likely be the remarks from First Lady Michelle Obama. She has been working more closely with Native youth ever since her visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe a little over a year ago.

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

In a speech to Native youth earlier this year, Obama said she was inspired by the youth she met on the reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. They are working hard to succeed despite facing numerous obstacles, she noted.

"Folks in Indian Country didn’t just wake up one day with addiction problems," Obama said at the White House Convening on Creating Opportunity for Native Youth. "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."

President Barack Obama, who announced the gathering at the White House Tribal Nations Conference last December, also was moved by the visit. He has directed his administration to make Native youth a bigger priority.

YouTube: President Obama Addresses the 2015 Gathering Of Nations Powwow

"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 in a video that was delivered at the Gathering of Nations powwow in New Mexico in April.

Tomorrow's event takes place at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel near the White House. Some of the participants will be staying in town for the United National Indian Tribal Youth conference, which kicks off Friday.

UNITY, which was founded nearly 40 years ago to help Native youth develop leadership and other skills, is one of the co-sponsor of the White House Tribal Youth Gathering.

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