Arizona youth among 1,000 at first White House Tribal Youth Gathering

Jul 10, 2015, 6:42 AM | Updated: 6:43 am
...

WASHINGTON — Brooke Overturf of Window Rock, Arizona, was momentarily flustered as she stood holding hands Thursday with Michelle Obama, while hundreds of other Native American youth crowded around, hoping for a handshake.

But the Navajo 19-year-old quickly recovered and pulled a turquoise ring from her hand to give to the first lady.

“I told my mom last night that if I met her (Obama) I was going to give her my ring. I gave her a ring my grandmother gave me,” said Overturf, emerging from the crowd one accessory shy of when she went in.

Overturf was one of more than 1,000 Native American youth representing more than 230 tribes from across the country who had come to Washington for what organizers were calling a “historic” first White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Dozens of youth from Arizona were at the event.

President Barack Obama had called for the meeting in April as part of his Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, initiative.

The event brought together Cabinet secretaries and elected officials – and the first lady – for speeches and small-group sessions to discuss issues in Indian country and share their stories with tribes and various federal officials.

“Your cultures, your values, your discoveries are at the heart of the American story,” Obama told the cheering gathering, but she said tribes rarely receive credit for their contributions.

But the gathering was less about history than it was about finding solutions to current problems on tribal lands. Most Native youth, including those at the gathering, face what Attorney General Loretta Lynch called “tremendous” challenges.

“Many Native American children suffer post-traumatic stress similar to the level of veterans who have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lynch said.

For a long time the federal government has tried to “prescribe how the nations should live,” but Lynch said the U.S. government needs to recognize that tribal decisions are best left to the tribes.

“You have to lead, and we have to be your partners,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, not the other way around.

Lynch, Burwell and other speakers encouraged the youth there to raise their voices. Lynch noted that “when it comes to civil rights and human rights,” young people have the “determination” to generate change.

“Every movement in this country has really been fueled by the energy of young people,” Lynch said.

The young people at the event had to be involved in order to get invited: The gathering was open to Native Americans ages 14-24 who had took the Gen-I challenge to create and document a project in their communities.

For Overturf, that meant organizing a free basketball camp on the Navajo Nation, recruiting help from a former women’s basketball player at Arizona State University, where Overturf is Miss Indian ASU.

She got her invitation in May and had help getting to Washington from ASU and from various sponsors. But many youth had to raise funds to make the trip.

“I know it was a challenge for a lot of Native youth to get here,” said Elton Naswood, a Navajo who works at HHS’ Office of Minority Health Resource Center in Washington.

Overturf said she reached out to other Navajo youth and other youth through the Indian community at ASU before making the trip.

“I could easily go by myself, but I am representing them too,” said Overturf, who routinely reminds tribal youth to “be proud of who you are and where you came from.”

Youth at the event were lauded by the Washington officials who turned out Thursday.

That was echoed by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota.

“We know one thing is for certain,” Heitkamp said. “We must involve youth.”

Despite the emphasis on self-reliance, however, the U.S. government still has to play a role in the betterment of Indian country, Heitkamp said.

“If by the time I’ve left office we have not changed opportunity, education, safety and healthcare on Indian reservations, then I have done nothing,” she pledged to the crowd.

The comments were well received but the first lady was clearly the star of the show.

“Every single one of your lives is precious and sacred,” Obama said. “And you definitely have a president and a first lady who have your back.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Sketch provided by Yavapai County Sheriff's Office)...
KTAR.com

Arizona authorities hoping to identify remains of girl known as ‘Little Miss Nobody’

An Arizona sheriff's office is working in hopes of finally identifying the remains of a young girl who was found 60 years ago and dubbed "Little Miss Nobody."
19 hours ago
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.(AP File Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)...
Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona announces 2nd COVID-19 infection

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva has contracted COVID-19 for the second time, saying Thursday he has minor symptoms.
19 hours ago
Irene Luevano and Jorge Quintero Lara (Courtesy Photos)...
KTAR.com

Body of missing 37-year-old Phoenix woman found in western Arizona

The body of a missing 37-year-old Phoenix woman was found in a western Arizona county and her boyfriend is set to face charges in her death, authorities said Thursday.
19 hours ago
Cocina Madrigal (Yelp Photo)...
KTAR.com

Phoenix Mexican restaurant No. 1 on Yelp top 100 for 2022; 4 more Valley spots make list

A Phoenix Mexican restaurant claimed the top spot for Yelp's best restaurant in the country for 2022 as reviewed by the company's users, with four other Valley places also making the list.
19 hours ago
(KTAR News Photo/Jeremy Schnell)...
Kevin Stone

Another company involved in semiconductor production comes to Phoenix

Sunlit, a Taiwanese company that supplies chemicals used in the production of semiconductors, broke ground on its first U.S. manufacturing facility in north Phoenix on Thursday.
19 hours ago
(Facebook Photo/Please Help Find Daniel)...
Kevin Stone

7 months after Phoenix’s Daniel Robinson went missing, dad keeps searching

Seven months after Daniel Robinson went missing after leaving a remote West Valley job site, his father’s relentless search efforts continue.
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Canvas Annuity

Annuity basics: how to retire with a guaranteed paycheck for life

Does the thought of retirement fill you with stress or with happiness? Everyone wants to spend their retirement in a way that brings them the most joy, whether that’s traveling the world or spending extra time at home with grandkids.
...
Arizona State University

Gain insights on next year’s trends at 58th Annual Economic Forecast Luncheon

Employment is recovering from the severe contraction induced by the pandemic, but it is still way below levels at the start of 2020. Can it fully recover in the coming year?
(Facebook Photo/NHTSA)...
Sweet James

Upcoming holiday season is peak time for DUI arrests

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most dangerous time of the year to be driving. That’s why it’s important to remember to call Sweet James Accident Attorneys if you’re injured or arrested because of a DUI accident.
Arizona youth among 1,000 at first White House Tribal Youth Gathering