For the first time, Native American tribe leaders will not be meeting a white father and also for the first time, tribal youth will be the ones going to Washington instead of their elders. For several centuries, the leaders of Native American tribes traveled across the U.S. to meet with the nation’s leader (previously called the “Great White Father”) in Washington. They go there to plead for a larger share of the opportunities and resources that were once theirs, for equality and for justice.
This will be the first time that the Tribal Youth Gathering will be held in the White House, which is concurrent with the conference on United National Indian Tribal Youth. The White House is expecting about 875 young Native Americans representing the 230 Indian nations located in 42 states. They will be meeting with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, the White House Council on Native American Affairs, Cabinet officials and other non-federal collaborators. Focus of the meeting will be on issues regarding language revitalization, cultural protection, climate change, economic opportunity, justice, health and education.
The Indian Country had been receiving heightened attention because of the huge challenges that Native American youth face. When President Obama visited Standing Rock Sioux Tribe last June, he was moved to tears when he listened to the stories of suicide, drinking and prevented opportunities relayed by Dakota and Lakota youths he spoke with. It seems like the Tribal Youth Gathering was scheduled at the most opportune time.
The event builds up on Generation Indigenous of the Obama administration, whose initiative is to provide funding for the expansion of social services, employment, health and education for Indian Country’s youth. Its schedule comes just a few weeks after the introduction of a bill in the two chambers of Congress for the creation of a commission that will look into the issues faced by Native American youth that had been dubbed as a “national emergency.”
In Wednesday’s press call, it was announced by the Department of Interior (DOI) that seven tribes – Standing Rock Sioux, Rosebud, Oglala Lakota, Santa Clara and Acoma Pueblos, Navajo and Hopi will be awarded grants that amount to $1.45 million. These tribes operate the schools in the Southwest and Midwest through the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). The DOI also announced the issuance of $995,000 that will be distributed to 20 tribal universities and colleges through the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. These institutions for higher learning will be working with 45 feeder schools funded by the BIE.
It was also announced that there would be a number of programs that the tribes can access through several non-federal partners and federal agencies until the end of the year. The programs include the provision of economic opportunity, establishing supportive and safe communities and preparing the tribal children for education and eventually for the workforce. The programs are further divided into several plans, which include reform of the BIE, establishment of an online support center for the tribes, Native languages preservation summit, services for youth at risk of suicide, drugs and crime. Plans also include grants and training to build the workforce, housing and health care system.