“The specific struggles that Native youth face often go unmentioned in our nation’s discussions about America’s children, and that has to change.” Those were the words that accompanied the White House’s 2014 Native Youth Report when it was released in December.
Part of that change began February 12 as President Barack Obama’s administration was joined by 250 American Indian and Alaska Native youth, attending the UNITY Midyear Conference, to launch the Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) Native Youth Challenge.
Obama announced the Gen-I Native Youth Challenge at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference to tribal leaders and youth in attendance, but at the launch of the program Native youth learned how to become actively involved.
The Gen-I Challenge is one of the key parts to establishing the National Native Youth Network while providing Native youth “with an opportunity to use various digital platforms to tell their stories and share the positive contributions they are making in their communities,” according to a National Congress of American Indians press release.
Cabinet Secretaries will be participating in a listening tour throughout 2015 – which kicked off February 10 with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Phoenix, Arizona.
“My colleagues that serve in the Obama administration will host similar listening sessions with Native Youth across the country. I look forward to joining them, and continuing my own travels too, as we work to lift up the voices of an often forgotten community and we work to create a path for real opportunity,” Jewell said in an Interior video released February 20.
Jewell visited with Native students on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa and Gila River Indian communities in her kick off tour where she interacted with youth discussing such topics as “what they like best about school?”
Gen-I initiative is meant to break down barriers standing between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed, Jewell said in her video. “One of the best ways to do that is to have a conversation with these kids – the next generation of Indian country,” she said.
President Obama recently released his 2016 budget that calls for a $1.5 billion increase in federal funds to support tribal communities throughout the country. A major focus of that proposal is to support Native youth so they can succeed. A commitment the president and first lady Michelle Obama have pushed strongly for since visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in their historic visit in June of last year.
Following his visit he called the stories of the Native youth “heartbreaking” and has been diligent in working towards closing the gaps youth face.
“We want to give those young people and other young Native Americans like them the support they deserve,” Obama said in a White House release on the launch of Gen-I.
“For the more than one in three Native children who live in poverty and the nearly half who don’t graduate from high school, we have a responsibility to do better by them – and we will,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) said while highlighting the President’s budget focusing on Native youth. “It’s deeply encouraging that the President has made such a significant commitment to Indian country and our Native youth, listening to the challenges they face and stepping up to the plate with action. For the past two years, I have been pressing on the President, cabinet secretaries, and anyone who will listen about the dire need to support Native kids – and we’re seeing results. This budget proposal is another step forward toward better fulfilling our promises for Native youth, and I will continue to work with this Administration and folks on both sides of the aisle to provide Native children with opportunities to succeed.”
Gen-I already has a wealth of support working to build and accomplish the goals it has set out to do. Among those supporters are: the Center for Native American Youth, NCAI, UNITY, the Obama Administration, and other stakeholders.
For more on the Gen-I Challenge click here.