President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on June 13, 2014. Photo by Pete Souza / White House

President Barack Obama names first members of Native youth commission

A new commission that will study issues affecting Native youth has its first members.

President Barack Obama named Anita Fineday, a citizen of the White Earth Nation, and Russ McDonald, a citizen of the Spirit Lake Nation, to the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children. The panel, which was created by an act of Congress, will address ways to improve the health and well-being of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian youth at the federal, tribal and local levels.

“I am proud that such experienced and committed individuals have agreed to serve the American people in these important roles. I know they will serve the American people well," Obama said in a statement on Wednesday in which he announced a number of positions.

As part of S.246, the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act, Obama is able to appoint two members to the panel. It's not clear if he will name another person before he leaves office on Friday morning.

The eight remaining positions of the commission will be filled by appointments made by members of Congress. So far, none have been publicly named.

The commission will be treated as an independent federal agency, according to a signing statement issued by Obama last October.

"I look forward to seeing the commission's work in the years to come -- work that will help ensure all our young people can reach their full potential," the outgoing president said at the time.

More so than any other president, Obama has maintained a strong connection with Native youth. A meeting with young members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on their reservation in North Dakota in June 2014 was crucial in getting his administration to pay more attention to the issues facing the most vulnerable group in America.

The new commission is named in honor of two Native advocates. Alyce Spotted Bear, a former chairwoman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota, served on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education prior to her passing in 2013.

Walter Sobeloff was a revered Tlingit elder who died in 2011 at the age of 102. He dedicated his life to advancing Native rights and education in Alaska.

The new law calls on the commission, once it has been established, to issue a report on its findings within three years. But Congress did not provide any funding for the effort -- a $2 million authorization was removed from the bill before by lawmakers passed it.

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