Nooksack Indian Tribe member Hamilton Seymour had the honor of introducing first lady Michelle Obama at the inaugural White House Tribal Youth Gathering on Thursday, July 9.
Seymour, a junior at Mount Baker High School, gave a short speech in front of a nationwide live audience and more than 800 of his peers representing 230 tribes from around the country. Then he introduced Obama.
“I’m only 15 years old, and last year I never would have imagined myself being an advocate for youth my age and older,” Seymour said in his speech. “I imagine as we come together, our strength in numbers signify the strength of our generation and that is very exciting to me. This day signifies that our voice has been heard.”
After Seymour’s introduction, Obama gave him a hug and thanked him for his introduction.
The event was put on with the United National Indian Tribal Youth and federal agencies, with the intent of giving tribal youth the chance to speak about issues such as education, health and wellness, cultural protection and revitalization, and climate change and natural resources.
Seymour, whose Indian name is Puq va Thut, is vice chair of the Nooksack Teen Council and represents all Northwest tribes on the UNITY executive committee.
The conference featured several prominent speakers, including Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and the first lady as the keynote speaker for the day.
She acknowledged the legacies left by indigenous people from generations prior, and the struggles the teens and their ancestors had endured.
“Today, on issues like conservation and climate change, we are finally beginning to embrace the wisdom of your ancestors,” Obama told the crowd. “Make no mistake about it, your customs, your values, your discoveries are at the heart of the American story. And yet as we all know, America hasn’t always treated your people and your heritage with dignity and respect.”
The gathering was meant to build on President Barack Obama’s program Generation Indigenous, or “Gen-I” which hopes to give Native youth better access to education, jobs, and health services to help them succeed.
Youth 24 and younger make up 42 percent of the American Indian and Alaska Native population, compared to 34 percent of the national population in that age range, according to the National Congress of American Indians.
“See Gen-I is a movement, understand? It’s about tribal youth from across this continent embracing your heritage, telling your stories, and teaching people about your central role in our history and our future,” Michelle Obama said. “Gen-I is about all of you investing in your promise by getting a good education.”