First Lady Michelle Obama addressed Native American youth at the White House’s first-ever Tribal Youth Gathering on Thursday in Washington D.C. She had a clear message to all in attendance: “We need you.”
More than 1,000 Native American youths attended the gathering as part of the Obama Administration’s Generation Indigenous, an initiative created to provide more resources for their populations, Newsweek reports.
"Each of you was put on this Earth for a reason," Michelle Obama said. "Each of you has something that you're destined to do, whether that's raising a beautiful family, whether that's succeeding in a profession or leading your community into a better future.
"You all have a role to play and we need you."
The children in attendance from 230 tribes in 42 states were given the opportunity to meet with the First Lady, cabinet officials, and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs to discuss what they think needs to be done to improve their populations' lives. Topics included cultural protection and revitalization, tribal justice, and economic opportunity.
"I know you all can make the change you seek, day by day, vote by vote, eagle feather by eagle feather," Michelle Obama said. "That’s how we have always made progress in this country.
"No action is too small; every voice matters."
Marilyn Fox of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reportedly addressed the need for improvement in Indian Health Services to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz, and Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Huffington Post reports.
"You can sit in the waiting room for hours with strep throat and they'll send you back with ibuprofen," Fox said.
President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe last June and met with local youth.
"During our visit, [young people] told us of heart-wrenching stories about substance abuse, homelessness, suicide — crises that would probably overwhelm most young people. But not these young men and women," Michelle said. "In the face of all these challenges, not a single one of them had given up."
She also stressed the importance of tribal individuals to seek out public office so they can help enact change for their communities.
"More than anything else, I believe that is your story," Michelle said. "The story of your generation. Gen I –- the story of young people like you investing in yourselves, raising up as leaders in your nations and in the world. Many of you are already well on your way.
"I'm so proud of you all. I'm proud of this gathering. I know you all can do this. I believe in you, and I can't wait to see all you will achieve."
There are 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and an unknown number of tribes the government does not recognize, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). The culture, beliefs, and practices of each tribe are unique.