Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, travelled to Arizona to listen to inspiring testimonies of Native American children.
Jewell visited the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Gila River Crossing Community School, both located near Phoenix, as part of a listening tour. The goal of this tour is to inform Obama’s Cabinet members of the challenges Native American youth face every day.
President Barack Obama was inspired to send his Cabinet members on this listening tour after he and the first lady Michelle Obama visited the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. There they heard the stories of six students who spoke of how issues such as poverty, drug abuse, violence, and suicide have affected them.
“We were moved because [the students] were like Malia and Sasha—just as smart, just as hopeful, just as beautiful,” Obama said. “But at their core, there was a nagging doubt that they would have the opportunities that my daughters had. And nothing gets me more frustrated than when I hear that. Nothing gets me angrier than when I get a sense that our young people early in life are already feeling like opportunities are foreclosed to them—because that’s not who we are.”
Obama stated that he felt “shaken because some of these kids were carrying burdens no young person should ever have to carry. And it was heartbreaking.” He is sending his Cabinet members on tour to listen to other testimonies so that they too will realize the importance of helping these children.
Jewell is the first member to visit with Native American youth. They have discussed how they felt federal policy could help them and their community. More listening sessions will occur throughout the year.
Obama’s administration is currently working on setting up multiple programs and initiatives to help Native American youth, including a National Tribal Youth Network which will provide peer support and a
White House Tribal Youth Gathering for summer 2015. The administration also hopes to gain funding for tribal schools which tribes will control.
Although the Obama administration has made a great effort to help tribes, many tribes are still struggling with a lack of tribal sovereignty. Building tribal capacity is very difficult when the federal and state governments obtain control of family and tribal decisions. It is our hope that creating foster care for Lakota, run by Lakota, which will redirect federal funding to the tribes rather than through the state of South Dakota, will aid in the sovereignty of the Lakota people.
This listening tour could be the first of many steps to encourage the U.S. government to provide tribes with the funds they need to become self-sufficient and create a better tomorrow for their people.