UNITY Youth Leaders Inspired at Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference
Washington, DC—“Not only did I get to see and hear his powerful message to Indian country and shake his hand but I got a selfie with President (Barack) Obama,” wrote Brian Weeden, 21, Mashpee Wampanoag, on his Facebook page shortly after he and Sarah Scott, 20, Lummi, shook hands with President Barack Obama last week during the Sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference (WHTNC) in Washington, DC. Weeden and Scott serve as Co-Presidents of the National UNITY Council. UNITY stands for United National Indian Tribal Youth. The purpose of the annual WHTNC is to foster the relationship between the United States Government and American Indian and Alaska Native tribes.
As representatives of UNITY, Weeden and Scott had an opportunity to meet with tribal leaders from across the nation. They attended a breakout session about Education and Supporting Native Youth. “I am so grateful to UNITY for providing this opportunity for me. Four years ago I would have never imagined that I would be shaking the hand of the 44th President of the United States. I can’t express the love and gratitude I have for this organization and those in my community for taking me in and believing in me. I am leaving this conference inspired, invigorated and eager to serve my fellow peers,” said Scott, who resides in Bellingham, Washington.
During the WHTNC, the White House outlined unique challenges faced by Native youth in a report released to tribal leaders. “..We cannot solve these challenges without a comprehensive picture of the problem,” said President Obama. Cabinet members have been asked to sit down with Native young people and hear firsthand about their lives. In addition, the Department of Education has launched a new initiative with a handful of tribes called the Native Youth Community Projects. “The idea is, we’re working with tribes to give schools and students intensive support across a range of areas — from nutrition, to mental health, to culturally relevant curriculum. We know that learning about the history and language and traditions of one’s people can make a huge difference in a child’s education. And in the long run, if it’s done right, it can help more of them be prepared for college and careers,” said President Obama.
Finally, the president spoke about a national network called Generation Indigenous, “to remove the barriers that stand between young people and opportunity.” He acknowledged the first class of “Gen-I” Youth Ambassadors who were invited to attend the White house Tribal Nations Conference. He also spoke of a National Tribal Youth Network and next year, holding the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering. “I am absolutely honored to have been chosen as a youth ambassador of the White House Tribal Nations Conference!” said Dahkota Brown, 15, Wilton Rancheria Miwok from Jackson, California, who also met Vice President Joe Biden. Brown was also named as one of UNITY’s 25 Under 25 Leaders earlier this year.
“Our President cares not only about Indian country but the future of Indian country by investing in our youth,” said Weeden, who resides in Mashpee, Massachusetts. “I’m so thankful for his commitment to Indian country and our youth,” added Scott.
Weeden and Scott were chaperoned by UNITY Executive Director Mary Kim Titla, San Carlos Apache. “We stand ready to support President Obama with all White House initiatives that are already in line with what UNITY is currently doing. The UNITY Midyear Conference will be held February 11 – 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National UNITY Conference will be held next July in Washington, DC which is expected to draw about 1,000 American Indian and Alaska Native youth from all parts of the country. We want the same things, which are to empower our Native youth and give them hope so they can take charge of their lives and take charge of their communities,” said Titla.