Politics & Government

‘Barack Black Eagle Obama’ focuses on youth at annual tribal conference

President Barack Obama, Dec. 1, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama, Dec. 1, 2014 in Washington, D.C. TNS

President Barack Obama will welcome the 566 leaders of federally recognized tribes to Washington Wednesday. Or, as he’s referred to by the tribal leaders, Barack Black Eagle Obama.

The sixth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference will tackle wide-ranging issues, including respecting tribal sovereignty, upholding treaties and trusts, lack of access to capital and credit and protecting Native women, according to the White House.

The annual gathering gives tribal leaders a chance to make pitches for what they want from Washington in the coming year.

For the first time, the conference will focus on youth with 36 White House young ambassadors participating in activities.

Obama will announce the launch of Generation Indigenous or Gen I to bolster youth through grants to support the college-and-career readiness of Native children and youth; a program to increase leadership development and peer support through an interactive online portal.

A Cabinet Native Youth Listening Tour will begin next year. A summit on challenges facing Native youth will be held in February. And the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering is planned for the summer.

As part of the conference, the White House will release a new report that acknowledges past failures of federal policy on the education of Native students and makes recommendations for the future.

The Department of the Interior has been working to restructure the Bureau of Indian Education to serve as a support network to schools rather than a direct education provider.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the schools are among the lowest performing in the nation. To revamp them, she said, would take more than $1 billion. The White House has proposed an increase in funding, but if Congress passes a spending plan that’s merely an extension funding will not be increased.

“We have to get creative,” Jewell said. “I don’t think the solution is to do nothing and wait for Congress to act.”

Nearly half of Native American people are under the age of 24; more than one-third of Native children live in poverty and Native youth have the lowest high school graduation rate of students across all schools.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will both speak at the event. A number of Cabinet members will participate.

This year’s conference builds on Obama’s visit in June to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. The visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation -- the one-time home of Chief Sitting Bull -- was the first by a U.S. president to an Indian reservation since 1999 and was said to be only the fourth such visit by a U.S. president in history.

Tribal leaders consider Obama one of their own. To them, he’s Barack Black Eagle Obama, having received his Indian name in 2008 when a couple on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana formally adopted him.