The White House unveiled a new initiative on Wednesday, a program designed to improve living conditions and economic opportunities for American Indian youth. Despite decades of efforts to close the gap, one-third of American Indian youth live below the poverty line. Even worse, barely two-thirds of these youth graduate from high school, and only as tiny fraction go to college, according to the 2014 Native Youth Report.

American Indian Youth Focus Of New Obama Initiative

Generation Indigenous initiative

Obama’s new Generation Indigenous initiative calls for an array of programs to better prepare young American Indians for college and careers, as well as developing leadership skills. The program will be administered through the U.S. Department of Education and the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth. Of note, White House staff are planning a series of visits to reservations next year.

A cost estimate for the initiative was not provided, but a spokesperson noted the administration is planning to fund the program with existing money and contributions from philanthropic organizations.

American Indian youth initiative stems from visit to Standing Rock Indian Reservation

Today’s announcement kicked off the White House Tribal Nations Conference that the president is hosting at the White House, and comes five months after the president and vice president and their wives visited the desperately poor Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas.

The notorious reservation holds about 8,500 people, many in substandard homes, and where the unemployment rate currently tops 20%. Of note, the suicide rate for American Indian youth aged 15 to 24 is double the overall national rate.

Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, noted that the president and first lady “were deeply moved” after listening to residents’ stories about the numerous challenges they had to deal with on the reservation, including low quality schools, depression and alcohol and drug abuse.

Statement from Native American rights activist

“People who grow up in a poverty culture sometimes need guidance, need values, need a little bit of structure,” explained Chase Iron Eyes, a Native American rights activist from Standing Rock who is a conference attendee.

“Through some of the things the administration is doing, it looks like they’re trying to do that,” he commented. “Youth? They just need the right tools, and maybe they can empower themselves.”