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White House tribal conference will focus on youth

President Barack Obama speaks at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.
President Barack Obama speaks at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. AP

The seventh annual White House Tribal Nations Conference on Thursday will focus on Native American youth.

Native leaders from more than 160 federally recognized Indian tribes were invited to attend the event in Washington hosted by President Barack Obama _ or as tribal leaders dubbed him “Barack Black Eagle Obama” _ and his Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The conference’s major focus will be on the impact of Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, an initiative launched last December to connect and empower Native youth following Obama’s visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.

“As a result of the president’s travel we have really built a focus on Native American young people,” said Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of domestic policy council. “They have been the forefront of our nation’s efforts to fulfill our promises to tribal nations.”

Gen-I encourages Native children to be active in their communities and connect with other youths throughout the country. They have already created tribal youth councils, Native language immersion programs and suicide prevention activities, according the Generation Indigenous 2015 report released by the White House. Some were even invited to attend the White House’s first Tribal Youth Gathering in July.

Jewell said that the administration’s 2016 budget proposal “makes Indian Country a priority,” dedicating $20.5 billion to Native American services such as education, social services, health, justice, infrastructure and natural resources.

“We’re very hopeful that (the budget) will get through Congress here in the coming weeks,” Jewell said.

She also said that they are “turning a new chapter” and “settling long-standing lawsuits” between tribes and the U.S. government as the administration looks to resolve land disputes.

Jewell said more than 80 settlements have been made by the Obama administration which, “gives us a chance to stop fighting on the past and look toward the future.”

At the conference, the White House will announce that Karen Diver has been named special assistant to the president for Native American affairs at the conference. Before accepting the position, Diver served as chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota.

“Karen has had a very distinguished career,” Muñoz said. “She’s been a tremendous advocate for Indian Country.”

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