In June of this year, President Barack Obama and the First Lady visited the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota. This was ya historic visit. He was only the fourth sitting President to visit Indian Country, joining Coolidge in 1927, Roosevelt in 1936, and Clinton in 1999.
The events that have happened since demonstrate that for this President, it wasn’t a routine visit!
In the months after the visit he has made it a priority to reach out to Native American youth searching for ways to improve their lives.
Last week the President announced an initiative called “Generation – Indigenous”, a new initiative including a series of efforts to improve the lives of our youngest First Americans.
It includes creating a partnership between the White House and the non-profit organization I created when I retired from the United States Senate - the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY). I created that organization because too many Native American children are being left behind.
Despite the efforts of parents and Tribes, too many Indian children are living in poverty and strife. They suffer the highest rates of suicide; they are the only population for which high school graduation rates decreased in the last decades; and they experience the highest mortality rates from many preventable diseases.
At CNAY we are working with parents and tribal authorities on issues related to teen suicide prevention, youth leadership development, increasing access to education opportunities, better health care and so much more. We are determined save lives and improve the lives of the children of the first Americans.
The invitation from the White House to create a partnership with the Center for Native American Youth is a wonderful opportunity to join forces and do more to help.
I have traveled to tribal communities all across the United States and I have met many young people who are doing inspiring things – we call them “Champions for Change.” But each visit also reminds me of our government’s failure to keep its many promises to the First Americans. It doesn’t have to remain that way. We can change that!
As I mentioned, the President’s visit to a North Dakota Indian Reservation was more than just a visit; it has led to positive action. I am grateful to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for hosting the President and First Lady. And I look forward to this partnership with the White House on new and expanded initiatives to address the urgent needs in Indian Country to help Indian children.
Byron Dorgan is a former United States Senator (D) from North Dakota. He is now a senior policy advisor at Arent Fox and serves as co-chair, along with Phil English, of the firm’s government relations practice.