Obama Announces Initiative to Lift Up Young Native Americans

    17 December, 2014

    This is the VOA Learning English Education Report.

    Getting a good education and good jobs have long been issues for Native Americans, many of whom live in poverty.

    Now president Barack Obama has announced a plan to better prepare young American Indians for colleges and careers. The announcement came as part of the recent White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington.

    In June, Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle visited the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The new plan is called the Generation Indigenous initiative.

    Obama Announces Initiative to Lift Up Young Native Americans
    President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, greets patrons after they had lunch with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Youth at We the Pizza/Good Stuff Eatery restaurant in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC, Nov. 20, 2014.

    It calls for the Department of the Interior to provide $1.2 million to help six more tribes establish school systems run by the tribes. It also increases programs for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and efforts to keep native languages from dying out.

    More than 30 percent of Americans have graduated from college. At the same time, only about 10 percent of American Indians are college graduates.

    Louis Walking Elk, however, is studying for a master degree in environmental science at Sitting Bull College in North Dakota. He wants to use the degree to help people who live on his reservation. He is one of the first in his family to go to college.

    "My dad especially. He didn't finish high school and he was always like, 'you have to do something,'" said Walking Elk.

    Sitting Bull College is one of more than 30 tribal colleges in the United States. About 300 students are completing their higher education at the school.

    The federal government provides support for the program. Sitting Bull College president Laurel Vermillion says the goal of making sure students finish their college studies is all important to her.

    "A huge majority are first generation students, college students, who don't have a lot of experience. They don't have parents who can tell them or talk about college. And so when they leave the reservation and go onto these big, mainstream campuses, they are lost," said Vermillion.

    Ms. Vermillion says many young Native Americans, especially men, are looking for direction and a sense of purpose. Today, 30 percent of students are male, and 70 percent are female.

    Sitting Bull College is trying to appeal to more men by offering a technical program. Classes include welding and oil drilling.

    Scott Davis leads the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. He also works to gain more male college students. He helps tribal colleges to get millions of dollars to start programs that develop young men for the workforce.

    Mr. Davis calls tribal colleges a shining beacon on reservations, giving hope to young Native Americans of a life of possibilities, and an escape from poverty.

    And that's the VOA Learning English Education Report for today. I'm Jeri Watson.