FIRST LADY, "WE NEED YOU."

Michelle Obama told the Tribal Youth Gathering, "Your lives are precious." EUGENE TAPAHE/UNITY

BY ERIN TAPAHE/NATIVE VOICE

“I believe in you,” First Lady Michelle Obama said to Native youth at the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering. More than one thousand youth members, representing for 230 tribes from 42 states gathered in Washington D.C.

“Your customs, your values, your discoveries are at the heart of the American story,” she said, acknowledging the mistreatment of Native Americans, “America hasn’t always treated your people and heritage with dignity and respect. Tragically it has been just the opposite.”

For instance, young children were sent to boarding school. These schools were instructed to follow the motto, “Kill the Indian to Save the Man.” According to the “Civilization Regulations” Native religions and ceremonies were considered illegal.

Inviting Native youth to research their elected officers and learn what laws those officials are making to see the effect upon Native communities, Obama suggests,“If those officials aren’t looking out for you and your families, you need to vote for someone who will, even better run for office yourself.”

With tears in Obama's eyes and understanding that suicide is higher among Native youth than any other race, she said, “Every single one of your lives are precious and sacred. Each of you have something you are destined to do. You all have a role to play and we need you.” After Obama spoke those words, the audience members also had tears streaming from their eyes.

As tears fell on Obama’s cheek, she spoke, “As you move forward with your journey, I want you to remember that you are never alone.” Assuring the students of the Tribal Youth Gathering, she continued, “Everyone in this room has your back. Everyone who is speaking at this summit, they have your back. And you definitely have a president and a first lady who have your back.”

After finishing her speech, she walked near the crowd and began hugging the youth. Rushing to the front stage, the youth desperately held their hands out in hopes of touching the First Lady. Hearing the youth whisper into Obama’s ear, “thank you,” in an array of languages native to the youth, Obama answered, “Everything I said is true. You can do anything you want and remember, we love you.”