Has Obama's Pledge To Native Americans Been Realized? 3 Years Later, He's Still Fighting
Three years ago, President Obama promised a "turning point" for the Native American community's entrepreneurial future. On Wednesday, President Obama announced the Generation Indigenous initiative to help Native American youth better prepare for higher education and a career path. The announcement was made in conjunction with the White House Tribal Nations Conference, which Obama is hosting for the sixth year in a row. As only the third U.S. sitting president to step foot into Indian Country in the last 80 years, Obama has long been dedicated to helping the Native American community.
Almost three years ago to the day, President Obama launched a similar initiative to help foster Native American education and business with this poignant address:
I believe that one day, we're going to be able to look back on these years and say that this was a turning point. This was the moment when we began to build a strong middle class in Indian Country; the moment when businesses, large and small, began opening up in reservations; the moment when we stopped repeating the mistakes of the past, and began building a better future together, one that honors old traditions and welcomes every Native American into the American Dream.
That same day, December 2, 2011, Obama signed into executive order the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, which seeks to expand education opportunities for all Native American and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students. The program is committed to ensuring that all AI/AN students have the opportunity to learn their Native languages and histories while receiving complete and competitive educations, so that they can be better prepared for higher education and a fulfilling career.
Now, in 2014, Obama has extended the program with a fresh new initiative. The Generation Indigenous initiative will work with the U.S. Department of Education and the Aspen Institute's Center For Native American Youth to develop programs that will help young Native Americans learn leadership skills and bolster a path to college and a career. According to a spokesperson who spoke with the Associated Press, the Obama administration plans to fund the initiative with existent money and support from philanthropic and nonprofit organizations.
In addition to these initiatives developed within the Department of Education, Obama has also established numerous resources within other federal agencies to help the Native American community, including the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Small Business Administration.
What inspired Obama to renew his efforts? In June, Obama and First Lady Michelle visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in the Dakotas, where he met with six students who described the grim reality of their community, which was plagued with homelessness, alcoholism, poor housing, and suicide. The trip would forever change Obama, who later said in a statement:
I love these young people. I only spent an hour with them. They feel like my own.
Obama has not given up on these young people, a message that will certainly be clear as 566 federally recognized tribal nations and 36 White House Youth Ambassadors converge on the sixth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference on Wednesday. But we wouldn't expect anything less from a president who the Native American call Barack Black Eagle Obama.
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