Obama to speak at Tribal Nations Conference

The White House on Wednesday will release a new report offering a stark appraisal of past failures in federal education policy for Native Americans ahead of President Obama's scheduled appearance at the annual Tribal Nations Conference.

The report acknowledges “a history of deeply troubling and destructive federal policies and actions” that have hurt Native communities and exacerbated inequality, while warning that progress today “continues to be hindered” by poor educational infrastructure.

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Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters Tuesday that the “federal government hasn't had a great track record” when it came to Native education, and said she knew “there's a problem.”

“We know children are where we need to put our focus,” she said.

More than a third of American Indian children live in poverty, and just two-thirds graduate from high school — the lowest of any racial or ethnic demographic group. Suicide among Native youth is 2.5 times the national rate, and is the second leading cause for death among young Native Americans.

“Without many urgently needed investments and reforms targeting Native youth in education and other high impact areas, Native youth face even greater challenges in the future,” the White House report finds.

In response, the president is expected to unveil a series of new steps to address challenges faced by Native youth. 

That will include a new grant program administered by the Department of Education to fund programs to improve the college and career readiness of Native children, and a program launched in partnership with the Aspen Institute to improve access to leadership development tools.

The White House will also convene two large meetings on the issue: a February 2015 summit on Native leadership, and another gathering later next year expected to draw hundreds of Native youth to the White House.

Members of the president's Cabinet will travel in the coming months to Indian country for discussions with kids there on how federal policies could be improved to better assist them.