White House: A historic gathering for Native American youth

First Lady Michelle Obama greets Elizabeth Ferguson, 21, of Kotzebue, AK, following her remarks at the Tribal Youth Gathering in support of the Generation Indigenous and Reach Higher initiatives in Washington, D.C., July 9, 2015. Photo by Lawrence Jackson / White House

Raina Thiele, Tracy Goodluck, and Alison Grigonis, three Native American officials at the White House offer a recap of the historic White House Tribal Youth Gathering:
The gathering wasn’t just about listening. Rather, it was about spurring action and change. Every participant completed the White House Native Youth Challenge, creating a project designed to spark positive change within their communities. The ideas we received were moving and innovative, providing a small example of the desire of so many Native youth to help their communities succeed. One student wants to teach young girls in her tribe to sing Native songs using hand drums — creating opportunities to learn about their history and culture. Another aims to teach his Tribal elders about technology — helping them access programs and resources. And one student plans to have 100 Native students write letters of hope with stories of overcoming obstacles to raise awareness about suicide prevention. This kind of leadership at such a young age gives us great hope for the next generation of Native leaders.

Secretary Burwell, Attorney General Lynch, Secretary Jewell, Secretary Castro, Administrator McCarthy, Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Senator Heidi Heitkamp joined youth to discuss healthcare, public safety, and youth opportunity. In conjunction with the Youth Gathering, the Administration announced commitments to continue supporting Native youth, including through higher education grants, health and mentoring initiatives, and expanded economic opportunity. Youth also took part in a technology innovation fair. The reception featured a panel discussion with Native basketball player Jude Schimmel and a performance by Canadian music group A Tribe Called Red.

At the conclusion of the gathering, Native youth were empowered to use the networks they built with peers to better their local communities. Native youth were also encouraged to connect with each other through the National Native Youth Network — a White House effort in partnership with the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

This gathering was planned and implemented with the help and input of Native students — and it showed. The discussions were honest and substantive. Students were engaged and eager to offer their thoughts. Friendships were made and bonds forged. And a federal commitment to Native youth was renewed.

Get the Story:
Raina Thiele, Tracy Goodluck and Alison Grigonis: A Historic Time for Tribal Youth (White House Blog 7/20)

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