UNITY Youth Leadership Featured at the First-Ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering
July 9, 2015 – Washington, DC – First Lady Michelle Obama addressed more than 1,000 Native American Youth at the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering held at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel as part of President Obama’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative and his commitment to improve the lives of Native youth across the country.
UNITY’s Northwest Area Representative Hamilton Seymour had the honor of introducing the First Lady. Seymour is a descendant from the Nooksack Indian Tribe and also serves as the Vice President of the Nooksack Teen Council.
“I’m only 15 years old, and last year I never would have imagined myself being an advocate for youth my age and older,” Seymour said in his speech. “I imagine as we come together, our strength in numbers signify the strength of our generation and that is very exciting to me. This day signifies that our voice has been heard.” Seymour said in his introduction.
During the First Lady’s 20-minute address, she emphasized the importance of Gen-I and what it stands for. “Gen-I isn’t just a summit. This isn’t just a program. See, Gen-I is a movement, you understand? It’s about tribal youth from across this continent embracing your heritage, telling your stories, and teaching people about your central role in our history and our future,” said the First Lady. She added, “Gen-I is about all of you investing in your promise by getting a good education. You’ve got to finish high school, go on to college or a vocational training program so that you are in a position to get good jobs and be the leaders that you were meant to be. And Gen-I is about tribal youth coming together and raising your voices for change not just in your Nations, but in the entire United States of America.”
The gathering was organized through a partnership between the United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY), The White House, National Congress of American Indians, Today’s Native Leaders, Department of Health & Human Services, and Department of Justice. General sessions featured youth, including UNITY former Co-President Jared Massey and other UNITY youth, interviewing several Cabinet members including Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Other dignitaries included Senator Mary Kathryn Heitkamp (D-ND).
UNITY’s “Today’s Native Leaders” program was featured at the gathering with six youth groups being selected to share their service projects, experiences and goals for the future. Participating were Mesa Strength Youth Council from Mesa, Arizona, North Carolina Native American Youth Organization (NCNAYO) and Warren County Indian Education Program NASO Club of Nashville, North Carolina, Chahta Alla Youth Council of Choctaw, Mississippi, Lahcotah Voices of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, CRST Youth Horsemanship Program of Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and Horse Creek UNITY Youth Council of White River, South Dakota.
The First Lady ended her speech, expressing her personal sentiments to the youth, “’I’m so proud of you all. I’m proud of this gathering. I know you all can do this. I believe in you, and I can’t wait to see everything you all will achieve for your generation and generations to come.”
ABOUT TODAY’S NATIVE LEADERS
Today’s Native Leaders results from a four-year cooperative agreement between UNITY and the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The project is designed to offer regional and national trainings and learning opportunities for American Indian youth to increase positive outcomes in their school, community and family environments.
The TNL initiative will offer tribal youth leadership training in seven regions over the next 2 years. Future trainings have been scheduled for Spokane, WA later this year; Palm Springs, CA, and Saint Paul, MN, in 2016; and Boston, MA, in 2017. Trainings will expand the number of UNITY youth councils and youth-led community service projects.