students learn policy prowess in nations capital
LaMere, a teenage member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, was
at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last summer, passing
out campaign literature and buttons. Then, she eagerly watched President
Barack Obamas inauguration in January. And later that month,
she became one of the few Native Americans to graduate from the
Senate Page Program.
is one of a growing number of American Indian students who are getting
educated in the ways of American government through first-hand experience
in the nations capital.
evidence suggests Native student participation in programs focused
on public policy, government and other fields is at an all-time
high in Washington, D.C.
tribes and families seem increasingly supportive.
am so very proud of her, said Lexies father, Frank LaMere,
longtime chairman of the Native American Caucus of the DNC.
Native students really get a lot out of learning from inside the
Beltway, and, importantly, they are showing people in government
that there is a strong, new generation of Indian leaders coming
down the pipeline.
page experience allowed her to interact with several political bigwigs,
including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on a regular
basis. She also got to see how policy is crafted, as well as the
complicated give-and-take process of the legislative branch.
of her experience was spent aiding senators and representatives,
delivering correspondence materials and trekking around chambers
with bills and amendments.
also regularly attended rigorous classes at the U.S. Senate Page
experience wont guarantee a path to success, but she is in
good company. Notable former Senate pages include Microsoft founder
Bill Gates and money man Warren Buffett.
Free, founder and president of the Indigenous Democratic Network
political action organization, otherwise known as INDNs List,
said it is exciting to see a new generation of Native students learning
about policymaking from the frontlines.
said Indian involvement in programs like this is needed not
only to get Indian faces involved in American government and politics,
but also to bring knowledge back to their home tribes.
feels some tribal folks think students shouldnt go to Washington
to learn, as there is a perception they will become Beltway
beasts who will never want to return to the reservation.
Free, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said that stereotype
isnt true, and she is glad to say she thinks its an
attitude that is fading on reservations.
her case, Free once worked at the Department of Justice in D.C.,
overseeing many important tribal justice issues, but she has since
returned home to work on tribal issues.
offers a great learning experience for our students. It wont
be for everyone, but the hands-on experience is incredible. You
become prepared for so many challenges in all aspects of your life.
said her time in D.C. allowed her to give advice and mentor future
Indian leaders, including Hilary Tompkins, Navajo, who recently
became the first Indian solicitor at the Department of the Interior
and Kim Teehee, Cherokee, who is a Native affairs adviser to President
Obama in the White House.
said there is no reason internships and other experiences that are
offered to Native students by various Washington government agencies
and organizations could not be offered by tribes. Her organization,
INDNs List, based in Tulsa, Okla., is beginning to see more
college student participation.
Soto, director of American Universitys Washington Internships
for Native Students program, agrees that tribes can offer important
work experiences to Native students. He noted that some tribes,
including the Cherokee Nation, are getting students involved working
in their Washington offices during the summer.
summer, Soto, of Navajo and Cocopah descent, oversaw a select group
of Native students who took part in the WINS program. The opportunity
gave them the chance to work in various government agencies and
take classes for college credit on American Indian issues
all for free while earning a stipend.
knowledge and understanding of policy and the implementation of
it is something we are really fortunate to be able to offer students.
It changes the way they think about their career choices and where
they want to go in life.
said students who take advantage of opportunities in D.C. are not
necessarily all looking for a career in politics.
of them are trying to figure out how they can assist the next generation
and trying to figure out where their own skill sets will play into
the end of the WINS summer offerings in late July, the program featured
an appearance by Larry EchoHawk, the Pawnee director of the BIA,
and by Kevin Gover, the Pawnee head of the National Museum of the
are already lined up to participate into the fall and next summer.
Soto is hopeful that more tribal leaders think about creating WINS-like
programs in their areas across the nation to get an experiential
sense of policymaking and community building.
like WINS, the page program and others really give these students
the opportunity to get face time with important players, Free
said. And through those connections, they might be able to
make good things happen for their tribes and for all Indian people
programs for Native students seem to be increasingly popular in
D.C., Mellor Willie, director of the Native American Indian Housing
Council and member of an advisory group for the Udall Native American
Congressional Internships program, said there needs to be more opportunities.
alum of the Udall program himself, Willie, a member of the Navajo
Nation, said the program gave him the confidence to live and learn
in a city like Washington, and was part of the pathway to his job
leading the housing council.
said the Washington Center academic organization has established
an internship program for Native students.
are a lot of great programs here for students who wish to take advantage
of them, but it seems like there needs to be more, since I always
hear how popular they are.
feels there needs to be encouragement from tribal leaders on reservations
to make sure all types of students are aware of such opportunities
to expand their horizons.
important to get a good mix of students participating some
who will bring their knowledge back, and some who will perhaps stay
and work on behalf of tribes from Washington.
the students who have taken advantage of D.C.-based programs, the
future looks bright. Today, Lexie is home, preparing herself for
another soon-to-come graduation this time from Bishop Heelan
High School in Sioux City, Iowa.
dad thinks she may have a career in politics or public policy one