Nearly 900 Native American youths from 230 tribes met at the White House Thursday for the first-ever Tribal Youth Gathering, which aimed to highlight challenges and potential solutions for tribal communities.
The meeting is part of the Obama Administration’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative, which is attempting to improve the lives of American Indian children and teenagers. Young people from 42 states met with First Lady Michelle Obama, the White House Council on Native American Affairs, and Cabinet officials to discuss several topics including, education, tribal justice, and health and wellness.
Native American youths have been a focus of the Obama Administration over the past year, especially after a Bureau of Indian Education Study Group released a report last June that highlighted the many challenges facing Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. According to study group’s report, in 2011, 4th grade students in BIE schools performed lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress than American Indian students in non-BIE schools. During the 2011-12 school year, the graduation rate at BIE schools was only 53 percent, compared to the national average of 80 percent. American Indian children and teenagers also face community challenges, such as high suicide rates, high unemployment rates and high rates of alcoholism, which Education Week‘s Lesli Maxwell detailed in a 2013 series, “Running in Place.”
In the wake of the report’s release, several tribes have received funds to take control of their schools or to help deal with persistent challenges. In June, in the wake of several suicides and suicide attempts by Native youth, the Pine Ridge School in South Dakota received $218,000 in federal funds to hire counselors and social workers. The administration has also conducted several listening tours to learn more about issues facing Native youth, and requested more funding for the Native Youth Community Projects, which provides grants to programs in Native communities that increase college- and career-readiness.
The gathering coincided with several White House announcements on Wednesday regarding more funding for tribal youths. The Department of the Interior will provide $995,000 to 20 tribal colleges and universities for college- and career-readiness programs that will aim to boost Native youth enrollment in college. The Department of the Interior will also give seven tribes a total of $1.45 million to help those tribes take more control of their tribal schools.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.