Native Village
Youth and Education news
December 2009  Volume 2

Education inside the Beltway
Indian students learn policy prowess in nation’s capital
By Rob Capriccioso
Condensed by Native Village

Nebraska: Lexie LaMere is an accomplished young woman from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The high school senior has attended the Democratic National Convention (DNC)and is among the few Native Americans to graduate from the Senate Page Program.

LaMere is among a growing number of American Indian students getting a first-hand education about the ways of American government. Native student participation in public policy and government programs is at an all-time high in Washington, D.C.

And tribes and families seem increasingly supportive.

“I am so very proud of her,” said Lexie’s father, Frank LaMere, longtime chairman of the Native American Caucus of the DNC. “Our 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.”

Lexie’s page experience allowed her to interact with several politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. She spent much time helping senators and representatives, delivering communications, and trekking around chambers with bills and amendments.

She also attended rigorous classes at the U.S. Senate Page School.

Kalyn Free is founder and president of the Indigenous Democratic Network political action organization. She says this new generation of Native students on the political frontlines can bring the knowledge back to their tribes.

“Washington offers a great learning experience for our students," said Free, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.  "It won’t be for everyone, but the hands-on experience is incredible. You become prepared for so many challenges in all aspects of your life.”

National Museum of the American Indian Director, Kevin Gover, said tribes could offer the same internships and  experiences. Jack Soto from American University says that some tribes are involving students in their D.C. offices. 

Soto, who is of Navajo and Cocopah descent, oversaw a group of Native students in the WINS program (Washington Internships for Native Students). Students worked in various government agencies, and took college-credit classes on American Indian issues – all for free – while earning a stipend.

“The knowledge and understanding of policy and the implementation of it is something we are really fortunate to be able to offer students," he said.  "It changes the way they think about their career choices and where they want to go in life.”

Soto said WINS students don't have to be looking for a career in politics. “Many 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 their decisions,” he said.

Students are already lined up to participate next summer.

“Experiences 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 one day.”

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