Some 30 Alaska Native teens are in Washington D.C. today for the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave the opening address this morning:
“We actually thought there would be 870 young people. There’s over a 1,000 here, so that’s amazing,” she said.
Jewell told them the Obama administration is committed to self-determination. That’s a break, Jewell said, with the past, when assimilation was the ideal.
“We now know better. We have learned from you and your elders … that you know best what to do for your people and it is our job to facilitate that self governance and self-determination.”
Jewell said some Native youth are battling problems no one should face. She acknowledged the efforts of Kotzebue teens to prevent suicide. She also said she heard it was 90 degrees in Tanana recently and said the administration is working on solutions for climate change. The secretary said climate disruption hits Indian country more than other places, because of the connection to the land.
“So my hope for you today is similar to this, to be proud of your traditions, your cultures… if you’re confident in who you are and what you have to offer, the world is going to respond to you,” Jewell said.
First Lady Michelle Obama is due to address the Native youth conference at lunch.