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Uncle Gene and interns

WASHINGTON - Every summer, interns flock to Washington for learning, career advancement, social outings, away-from-home impressions, and experiences they;ve never had before and will never forget.

Only in college, if they're lucky, will they ever again meet so many adults who are eager to help them get on in life, committing time and attention to young people who are ambitious to give an account of themselves, or even just curious to know how they can go about it. But their ambitions and their curiosity alike typically need some channeling, and part of the channeling process is to impress on them that more than college degrees and professional knowledge matter - so do connections, social skills, manners, first impressions, appearances, attitude and the basic ability to ''manage.''

In after years, the ''amicable collision'' that has been said to polish all people for presentation to others may be heavier on collision. But every year, for interns, scores of people step up from all walks of life to make sure the social polishing process keeps an amicable shine.

Charles Blackwell, Ambassador in Washington of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, has been one of them for years now, as Indian internships have increased in number. For all that diplomacy is his profession and considerateness its currency, his commitment to mentoring interns has a more basic origin - he knows what it can do for them, because he knows what it did for him.

At 32, married, and assistant dean of a law school, Blackwell was more advanced than most interns, but he still needed mentoring on some fine points. The late Eugene ''Gene'' Crawford filled the role. Santee from Nebraska, a military man, ''He always said, 'Keep a shine on your shoes,''' Blackwell related. ''He turned a light on in my head about the importance of how you look.''

And Crawford went beyond giving advice. He bought Blackwell three seasonal suits. ''I can't tell you what a difference that made in my life,'' Blackwell said.

He's been known to do the same for interns today. Once they've learned everything else they can on their internship placement, out they go with Blackwell to a clothing store and, often enough, their first suit. ''It's your gift from Uncle Gene. And when you get older, you pass along his gift to someone you'll know.''


Ariana Seidel spent the month of July in Washington as a Chickasaw Tribal Intern, working for Blackwell out of the nation's Push-ma-tah-ha House near the Capitol building.

She liked the work, and the walk to work. She enjoyed the experience she gained after her freshman year at Penn State University, and the prospect of returning there Aug. 23 for her sophomore year, applying herself toward a double major in political science and journalism. She liked the National Museum of the American Indian best of all.

''It was really a cool experience, especially coming out of my freshman year in college. ... Everything from being able to walk past the Capitol every day, and going to work and meeting a senator or a congressman that Mr. Blackwell was meeting with. It was just a really cool experience that most kids my age don't get to have.''

Her tasks included moving a certain amount of paperwork, contacting tribal leaders on different matters, and currying support for specific projects, such as a fundraiser for Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. She also got a taste for what law school could be like - she's leaning toward it - by reading up on legislative bills and briefing the ambassador on them. (Blackwell is an attorney and former law professor himself.)

But for all that, nothing quite matched NMAI and its ''Identity by Design'' exhibit of Native-made dresses.

''Going to the Native American museum was so amazing, and it was such a beautiful, beautiful display'' - all the different dresses, from different cultures, and all the different materials and considerations that went into making them. ''There's just so much more to Indian culture than most people know about.''


Amy Bowers believes that law clerks in Washington get an enriched experience from the regular events and networking opportunities that take place there, the many meetings arranged by the Native American Bar Association, the exposure to different specialty areas of practice that expand their view of the legal profession, the congressional hearings, the many court cases and, of course, the Supreme Court sessions.

The interning clerks from NARF's Washington office are back in school now after their summer job in the clerkship program. But Bowers, the NARF staff attorney who directs the clerkship program, said the Boulder office also offers a unique advantage.

One of the clerkship program interns who will work there through her last semester at the Denver University School of Law in 2009, Brandy Kamani Michelle Tripp Toelupe, described what that advantage has meant for her: After taking the basic classes in Indian law, she is now getting a deeper grasp of how it has developed in practice from the core of the Constitution and Supreme Court precedents.

Because NARF has been involved in so many of the contemporary Indian law cases, its institutional knowledge of that particular evolution is unequalled, and NARF attorneys tend to mentor the clerk interns, she said, even down to reviewing the memoranda that serve to summarize their research on fine points of law.

''The attorneys here are very involved,'' Toelupe said.

And their involvement goes beyond law proper to grammar and communication, a major skill set for any budding attorney nowadays.

So far in the clerkship program, Toelupe has worked on education, the environment, the Indian Child Welfare Act, tribal recognition issues, tribal law codes, and prisoner rights.

As a Native Hawaiian (though her last name is that of her Samoan husband), Toelupe came to NARF with a commitment to Native issues and the law. Under NARF's tutelage, she has begun to sense the full breadth of that commitment. ''I've learned that Indian law touches every part of the law.''


As an intern with The Fund for American Studies, in its Business and Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, Johnathan Lozier surrounded the ideal internship placement with a world of eye-opening education, new experiences and future prospects.

''It was probably the most fulfilling experience I've ever had the opportunity to do,'' he said on the eve of an early flight to Denver for the Democratic National Convention, where he would meet with staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the campaign of presidential candidate Barack Obama, and nationally known media newscasters, among others.

And that was at the end of August, after a summer that had been beyond compare for the East Central University of Oklahoma collegian. Lozier's own tribe, the Seminole of Oklahoma, as well as the Choctaw and Chickasaw, all contributed financially to an internship he couldn't have afforded otherwise.

''They are powerhouses, those tribes; they've really got it going on. They've got the ball rolling and they'll keep it rolling a long, long time. I hope I'll be behind it, helping to push it someday.''

His internship placement was with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Capitol Hill trade association representing the 10 largest auto companies in the world. It mainly works on safety regulations within the legislative process. Alliance executives sent him to the right meetings, sat him at the right tables, and included him in their interactions with insightful industry leaders and lawmakers.

As for the educational component of the internship, it was no afterthought. Attending the Institute on Business and Government Affairs classes, he sat at the feet of a scholar who travels the world teaching Shakespeare and explored the links between power and values - for instance, the power of keeping values positive as political events play out. In-depth panel discussion with working professionals and other professors rounded out the academic offerings. ''I have never been challenged intellectually like I was this summer. ... It was so comforting to know you were getting so much out of this.''


Come late August and Samuel Kohn was back at the renowned Crow Fair in Montana, where his family camps each year.

But Kohn hadn't forgotten his summer internship in Washington, as a fellow of the Morris K. Udall Foundation Native American Congressional Internship Program. He spent 10 weeks working on the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities, monitoring federal agencies and their contacts with tribal colleges, pursuant to Executive Order 13270 of the office of the president.

On the one hand, he learned ''how the entire government works with Indian programs,'' and on the other hand, how executive branch responsibilities are carried out. He has always been close to Little Big Horn College in Montana, he said, but now it was good to see tribal colleges from the federal viewpoint.

''It was a fantastic experience.''

Along the way he got what all interns hope for - the beginnings of a network and ''a taste of Washington, D.C.''

All of the museums on the National Mall were to his liking, at least all of them he visited.

The exhibit that impressed him most was ''The Fantastic World of Jim Henson,'' the late creator of the Muppets. Kohn is poised for his fourth year at Dartmouth University, working on a double major in Native American studies and computer science with a film emphasis. However, the museums weren't so much on his agenda as the knowledge within them. ''It's like, all knowledge is worth having.''

Likewise, only more so, all people are worth knowing at the outset of that collegial network another 2008 intern program participant termed ''lifelong connections that will follow them [interns] through their careers, and through their whole lives. ... They'll meet these people again.''

One of Kohn's most memorable mentors was Anselm G. Davis, the Navajo executive director of the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities. He provided Kohn with good direction on his work, lots of informed advice, and insight that came from experience.

''He's really an exceptional individual, very inspiring,'' Kohn said.

Another time, he got to spend 10 or 15 minutes unexpectedly with a Native senior executive within the government who happened to know Montana well. ''We just visited and laughed like old friends.''

He is considering a career in law, though not necessarily in Washington. Much as he appreciated his experience there, Kohn feels that his own strengths are probably closer to home.


This year there were 65 interns from the Association of American Indian Physicians, the largest group ever brought to Washington in the 11 years of the Oklahoma City-based program, said AAIP executive director Margaret Knight, Laguna Pueblo.

They learned about how to get into medical school, how to find financial scholarship information, and what a medical research library looks like.

They toured the immense National Institutes of Health campus, entered laboratories under the guidance of top NIH scientists, looked into every microscope available, checked out the petri dishes and their micro-organic contents, and observed up close some of the miraculous-seeming things that are being done with computers in medicine nowadays.

They met with national lawmakers who shed light on how the IHS works within the federal system.

Zechariah Harjo got the message of his own potential and shared the perspective from the Lincoln Memorial: information on how to proceed toward a future in medicine was great, but still more eye-opening was a venture out into a place they'd never been before. ''It gives students and scholars an experience of getting away from home ... [to] experience life away from home.''

Zechariah had been selected for the program only as an alternate until he made some adjustments to his application and tried again. ''I had a blast,'' he said. ''It was just a blessing from above that I got to go and meet influential people who are interested in Indians in the medical professions.''

Between the learning experiences, he said, ''I heard story after story of the struggle people went through. ... It will be hard, but I can do it. It definitely clarified things.''

The Muscogee Creek, Navajo, and Seminole of Oklahoma young man's most interesting visit in Washington was to Georgetown University, where the medical facilities tied up some of the loose ends of his other experiences. He saw a demonstration of medical robotics in action, and took away welcome words from a presentation on how to attend the university: ''You can go there, and it doesn't have to be expensive.''