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American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) youth face more barriers to success than almost any other group in the country. Thirty-seven percent of AIAN children under 18 live in poverty, significantly higher than the national child poverty rate of 22 percent (according to the American Community Survey). The AIAN graduation rate is the lowest of any racial and ethnic group at 68 percent. Perhaps most stunning, suicide is the second leading cause of death for AIAN youth between ages 15 and 24 — they commit suicide at 2.5 times the national rate.
But these youth have a new partner in their movement for stronger economic and cultural opportunity: the president. At the recent White House Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama announced a new agenda focusing on AIAN youth which includes listening tours by cabinet secretaries in Indian Country; reorganizing and strengthening some education programs serving AIAN youth; a new national youth leadership network called “Generation Indigenous,” in partnership with the Center for Native American Youth; and the first White House tribal youth conference in 2015.
This new initiative holds a lot of promise because of the youth leaders who are at the forefront. It will lift up voices of people like Joaquin Gallegos (Apache Nation & Pueblo of Santa Ana), a 2013 Champion for Change who personally understands the impact of severe health disparities on his community — and he’s doing something about it by supporting culturally-sensitive oral health research. In his words, “Having informed decision-makers who have the best interest of tribes in mind is a key component of positively altering the current state of Indian health.”
You can join the Generation Indigenous network and help build a new platform for youth leaders like Joaquin in tribal communities across the country.
The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.