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Obama Administration's Native Youth Listening Tour Launches in Ariz.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Arizona this week to speak with Native American youths, marking the start of a listening tour meant to give President Barack Obama's Cabinet a direct look at the challenges that young people face in Indian Country.

Jewell visited the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Gila River Crossing Community School along with Bureau of Indian Education director Charles "Monty" Roessel.

A report released by the White House last year said more help is needed to develop tribal economies and education.

"We're a large bureaucracy ... we have many silos," Jewell said to reporters Tuesday during her stop at Salt River. "When you listen to Native youth and you listen to some of the issues that they face, it's very clear that we need to do a better and more effective job ... of knocking down those silos to serve Native youth in particular, but Indian Country broadly.

"We're at a time in our nation's history where we have awakened to the fact that we are not doing an effective job serving Native youth," Jewell said.

Obama said his staff will hold the listening sessions throughout Indian Country this year, but future dates and locations have not been announced. The president announced the listening tour several months after he visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, saying he wanted his Cabinet members to also hear from young people growing up in similar communities.

The schools that Native American children attend are often not equipped to serve them, and American Indian and Alaska Native students are less likely to graduate from high school than any other racial or ethnic group.

The listening tour begins as Obama seeks to boost funding for tribal schools to $1 billion next year, an amount that administration officials say will help the Bureau of Indian Education begin to rebuild crumbling school buildings and start work on long-deferred maintenance projects.

Jewell said that BIE schools such as Gila River are in "dreadful condition" and that the Phoenix-area campus is "another illustration of the disinvestment that the federal government and Congress has made in schools."

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