Thank you Michael. And thank you for your leadership with the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council and the UNITY Youth Council Executive Board. By example, you have shown thousands of Native youth that they can take a firm role in guiding their future.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank J.R. Cook for his tireless efforts as founder of UNITY. He recognized that, too often, there was more pressure on Native youth to fail rather than succeed. Since 1976, with the help of a special group of people, UNITY has grown into a nationwide organization that has impacted the lives of thousands of young people across our country.
And let me also thank my dear friends Jan English and Lynn Cutler for their efforts to bring attention to the problems that native youth face on and off the reservations.
The idea behind UNITY is evident in its name -- helping to build unified communities that preserve the legacy and the history of Native American tribes and individuals. And the theme you have chosen for this year's conference, "Restoring the Circle," speaks to the importance of strengthening and rebuilding the communities that help us thrive as individuals.
And I know you are here today because you share that philosophy. There is much to value about being a Native American. There are more than 500 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, which are federally-recognized sovereign nations, based throughout the United States. Each are blessed with a rich and proud history that is as old as the history of this land. Each have passed down through many generations a heritage and culture that is alive today.
But too often, Native Americans are challenged by a disproportionately larger share of the problems that negatively impact our lives -- problems such as poverty, substance abuse, suicide, other health challenges, and the highest rate of school drop-outs.
Each of us, regardless of our heritage, has a role to play in helping overcome these social problems. You have a special role to play in helping to rebuild the community that can keep the tradition of the Native people alive for generations to come -- that can restore the spirit and help heal those who have fallen into poverty and despair.
An ancient Nahuatl prophecy speaks of a "new dawn" that comes during the later years of the twentieth century. The prophecy says: "You are the children of the New Dawn. Life in a troubled world will awaken your spirit making struggle a joy and community a vision. You must surpass the wisdom of your forefathers who loved you. By being united and giving us a community, discover the strength of becoming."
As a group united, you are fulfilling that prophecy and helping to spread a message of survival of the cultural spirit, values and traditions of the Native American people.
There is a traditional Native American concept of "community esteem" -- which is the respect and admiration that is given to a person for living their life for the good of the community. We must work together to bring back a sense of community esteem to all communities -- to help restore the safety nets that keep our neighborhoods, reservations, communities and cities strong.
There are many ways to work in partnership with schools, community organizations, corporations, state, local, federal and tribal governments to further this concept. For example, the Administration has launched programs like the President's Volunteer Summit and Americorps. Americorps is a program that was founded on the belief that, through service, we can begin to rebuild our sense of community, bridge our differences, and lay the foundations for a stronger, more cohesive society.
I understand that many of you will be participating in a similar public service project this weekend out in Anacostia, helping clean up the environment. I applaud you for the time and energy you are devoting to community service. Can you imagine what could be accomplished if everyone across this nation committed even one hour a month to their community?
I believe that programs like the UNITY network and youth councils, are helping build such a future. Working together in partnership with a common purpose, whether on cleaning up your community or helping those in need, helps build a sense of self-esteem and confidence.
In New Mexico, the Sunset Eagle UNITY Club planted trees to help beautify the Navajo Prepatory School campus and visited elderly with baskets of treats and useful items. In Iowa, the Meskwaki UNITY Council formed a dance troupe to share their culture through music, dance and storytelling. The Chahta Alla Youth Council in Mississippi adopted a section of Tribal Land to create a nature trail for the community to enjoy. Each of these activities helps enrich the lives of the people who take part in them as well as those who benefit from them.
The most important thing you can do with your lives is to stay in school, go on to college, and graduate. Those skills will help you meet your personal goals, as well as equip you to play an important role in helping your tribes. The Administration has taken important steps to provide more funding for the tribal college system, and to invest in economic development initiatives in Indian country. The President has issued Executive Orders that reaffirm our commitment to the concept of tribal sovereignty and for the need to consult with your leaders when policy is enacted that affects you. And my husband is personally committed to ensuring that reservations have access to communications technology that will help you learn and grow in an environment and economy based on information.
There are many pressures that young people face today and many challenges that lie ahead. If we face challenges equipped with a sense of confidence and determination, we can achieve and grow in the process. Wilma Mankiller, former Chief of the Cherokee Nation once commented: "My ability to survive personal crises is really a mark of the character of my people. Individually and collectively, we react with a tenacity that allows us again and again to bounce back from adversity."
America should be the land of opportunity for all its people. It is up to each of us and each of you to seize that opportunity. Our nation's strength is measured by the individual strength of its people.
All of you here today are at the forefront of a generation that doesn't just take what the world has to offer -- but fights back and gives back too. And, I think your giving back will not only help restore the circle and help our communities grow and thrive, but will also help you grow as individuals as, with your hands and hearts, you shape the future.
Thank you and best wishes!
United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc.
Congressional Black Caucus Meeting
Philadelphia Martin Luther King, Jr. Association Luncheoon
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
T H E W H I T E H O U S E