White House convening lifts up native youth: Event brings together first lady, Cabinet secretaries, tribal youth and leaders to expand opportunities for Native youth

Casey Family Programs joined the White House, Center for Native American Youth, tribal, government and philanthropic leaders in an inspiring convening focused on creating opportunities for Native youth.

The April 8, 2015, convening, “Creating Native Youth Opportunities,” underscored the Obama Administration’s commitment to creating opportunities for the next generation of Native Americans. The five-hour gathering included more than 50 philanthropic representatives who were urged to find ways to invest in Native youth and expand public-private efforts to develop more pathways to success.

First lady Michelle Obama made powerful remarks recounting her visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation with President Obama in 2014. She recalled meeting youth who had faced tremendous obstacles in their families, including substance abuse, suicide and homelessness.

“But somehow – and this is what truly blew us away – somehow, in the face of all this hardship and all these tragedies, these kids haven’t given up. They are still fighting to find a way forward, for themselves and for their community,” the first lady said.

Tribal youth from across the country shared their own stories of overcoming challenges and hardship with resilience and hope during a panel session. A 22-year-old from North Dakota revealed that he is singlehandedly raising four brothers while attending college. A young man from Alaska said that after he aged out of foster care at 18, he worked two jobs, including a graveyard shift, to become the first member of his family to graduate from college. And a young woman from the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma shared her determination to decrease the heart disease and diabetes harming her community’s health.

The youth and tribal leaders also met with government leaders, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, to discuss increasing economic and workforce development, expanding health services in Native communities, improving Native educational institutions and more.

Dr. William C. Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, participated in a panel discussion of philanthropic leaders and said that it’s time for government, foundations and others to work together to develop more opportunities for Native youth that recognize their culture and communities. “Let’s start now. Let’s move from conversation to action now.”

Former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman and founder of the Center for Native American Youth, said the country needs to show Native youth that it cares, and Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Tribe in Washington state and president of the National Congress of American Indians, called the meeting historic.