First Lady Michelle Obama shares message of hope with Indian school

First Lady Michelle Obama watches the Tewa Dancers, a group from Ohkay Owingeh, perform at the Santa Fe Indian School on May 26, 2016. Photo from FLOTUS / Twitter

First Lady Michelle Obama offered a message of hope and encouragement to the graduating class of Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico on Thursday.

Obama acknowledged the painful past of the federal government's Indian education policies. She said boarding schools and other institutions once tried to "annihilate" tribal cultures.

"But today, the Native languages that were once strictly forbidden here now echo through the hallways and in your dorm room conversations at night," Obama said to loud applause.

In light of the historic obstacles, Obama told the class of 100-plus seniors that their stories "inspire" her. She said they were maintaining their traditions while forging new paths forward for their communities.

"Whether you’re saying an ancient blessing over your hydroponically-grown crops or using cutting-edge computer technology to understand the biology and hydrology of your ancestral lands, every day at this school, you’ve been weaving together thousands of years of your heritage with the realities of your modern lives," the First Lady said.

"And all that preparation and hard work is so critically important, because make no mistake about it, you all are the next generation of leaders in your communities -- not years from now, or decades from now, but right now," Obama told the students.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: First Lady Michelle Obama at Santa Fe Indian School May 26, 2016

But Obama warned the youth that they will continue to face more challenges. Alluding to the highly-charged political climate in a heated election year, she said some of the "loudest voices" in the nation are advancing ideas that "go against every single one of the values that you’ve been living at this school."

She didn't identify any of those "loudest voices" by name but her message was clear: she told the students to stand up for their beliefs.

"They’re telling us that we should disrespect others because of who they are or where they come from or how they worship," she said. "They’re telling us that we should be selfish – that folks who are struggling don’t deserve our help. That we should just take what we can from life and not worry about anyone else. "

"They’re saying that it’s OK to keep harming our planet and using our land, our air, our water however we wish," she noted. "But graduates, you all know that those are not the values that shape good citizens. Those are not the values that build strong families, and communities, and nations."

Some of the "extraordinary" members of the 2016 graduating class at Santa Fe Indian School in New, Mexico. Photo from FLOTUS / Twitter

Obama's appearance marked the first time a sitting First Lady spoke at a Bureau of Indian Education commencement ceremony. She told the large crowd of students, teachers, educators and tribal leaders that there was "nowhere I would rather be than right here with all of you."

As part of the Generation Indigenous initiative, Obama has been engaging with Native youth around the country. The effort started after the First Lady and President Barack Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota in June 2014 and learned about the challenges facing young American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Last July, the First Lady addressed the historic White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C. She told nearly 1,000 young tribal members that their lives are "precious and sacred" and also praised them for their resiliency.

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Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama at Santa Fe Indian School (5/26)

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