First Lady to Indian Youth: We're Finally Embracing 'Wisdom of Your Ancestors' on Climate Change

By Penny Starr | July 9, 2015 | 5:15pm EDT

First lady Michelle Obama speaks to Native America youth at the

White House on July 9, 2015.  (AP) 

( – First Lady Michelle Obama said on Thursday at a tribal youth gathering at the White House that the United States is “finally” embracing the wisdom of Native Americans on conservation and climate change, and claimed that America’s founders modeled the U.S. government partly on the “Iroquois Confederacy.”

“Today, on issues like conservation and climate change, we are finally beginning to embrace the wisdom of your ancestors,” Mrs. Obama said at the event where youth from 230 tribes from 42 states participated.

“Now, long before the United States was even an idea, your ancestors were harvesting the crops that would feed the world for centuries to come,” Obama said. “And places like Seattle and Michigan and natural wonders like Niagara Falls and Yosemite can only be named using your Native languages.”

“Your artwork has inspired generations of artists,” Obama said. “Your healing techniques have spurred great medical advances and saved countless lives.”

“One of your early democratic institutions –- the Iroquois Confederacy -– served as a model for the United States government,” Obama said.


The Iroquois Confederacy was a group of five and eventually six Iroquois tribes that some historians cite as a society operating as a democracy because all decisions made by the Confederacy had to be unanimous.

Aside from crediting Native Americans for inspiring the Founding Fathers, the First Lady also said the government today is “beginning to embrace” their wisdom on conservation and climate change.

“And today, on issues like conservation and climate change, we are finally beginning to embrace the wisdom of your ancestors,” Obama said. 

“So make no mistake about it, your customs, your values, your discoveries are at the heart of the American story,” Obama said. “And yet, as we all know, America hasn’t always treated your people and your heritage with dignity and respect.”

“Tragically, it’s been just the opposite,” Obama said. “Your traditions were systematically targeted for destruction. 

“Your people were forced to relocate far from the lands they’d lived on for generations,” Obama said. “Young people just like you were sent to boarding schools designed to strip them of their language, culture, and history.”

“And your religions and ceremonies were outlawed by so-called ‘civilization regulations,’” she said, “regulations that literally made your cultures illegal.”

Obama noted that “blatant discrimination is thankfully far behind us,” but that

Native Americans still face challenges, including sometimes being “filled with doubts, or you feel weighed down by history or stifled by your circumstances, or think that no one really understands what you’re going through.”

Obama, who supports abortion-on-demand and, according to, once called a ban on partial-birth abortion a “flawed law,” then told the youth their lives are “precious and sacred.”

“When you start to feel that way, I want you all to remember one simple but powerful truth: that every single one of your lives is precious and sacred, and each of you was put on this earth for a reason,” Obama said.

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