During a week in February, ten Osage students walked through the halls of United States Congress in Washington, D.C., to learn about the federal government, role of tribal nations and the importance of their voice as dual citizens.
The Osage Nation Department of Education sponsored an educational trip Feb. 12-18 for these students to attend the Close Up and National Indian Education Association (NIEA) event. This student-oriented program was held in conjunction with NIEA's Legislative Summit and their advocacy work for Indian Education. The organizations work together to provide specifically designed curriculum for American Indian students.
Osage high school students nationwide applied to attend the prestigious event. A blind selection committee chose ten students based on grades, recommendation letter, and critical essay. Other American Indian students from Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, and the United South and Eastern Tribes attended the program.
The weeklong summit offered more than 20 workshops and learning activities about the federal government, Indian policy, history, and tribal sovereignty. The students met with senators, representatives, and their respective staff to examine how the government functions and to advocate for issues important to Indian Country and their local communities.
One activity, the Indian Youth Summit, mirrored President Obama’s Tribal Leadership Summit and encouraged the students to address important issues facing Indian Country. The program coordinators provided articles, statistics and resource information about health conditions, Indian Health Services, unemployment, poverty, Indian education and federal programs that directly impact Indian Country. Each group combined this information with background knowledge from their local communities to collaborate with other students and create policies they believed would be a positive benefit to Indian Country.
During the tribal action project workshops, students created a “problem-solution action plan” to address any current issue in their local community. The Osage students’ tribal action project entitled, “Creating and Enforcing Laws” addressed crime that goes unprosecuted on tribal lands. They said, “Non-natives come onto restricted land and commit crimes such as domestic violence,” and “criminals see places like the Indian Camp and villages as a hideout spot.” The group used information from historical perspectives on important U.S. Supreme Court cases such as the Marshal Trilogy and jurisdiction roles of different governments. With this information the group determined that Osage congressional leaders need to write more laws for the Osage Nation communities and the federal government needs to enact laws to give tribal nations more jurisdiction and power to prosecute offenders.
Another highlight of the week was the discussion from Native American professionals that work in Washington and Capitol Hill. They answered student questions during the Indian Issues Today Panel. The questions included topics about Indian Health Care and its attachment to the “ObamaCare Bill”; the odds of the Native CLASS Act being enacted; and what is being done about unprosecuted crime that is committed on tribal lands. The panel addressed each of the questions and provided historical background as well.
After the panel, an Osage student stated, “I didn’t know how difficult it was for those working for Indian Country.” The students were surprised to learn that it took more than fourteen years in one case for an Indian issue to reach the Senate floor for debate.
The Osage students joined a group from the Shoshone-Bannock tribes on a tour of the U.S. Department of Interior. They met with the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Larry Echohawk. The meeting also included a representative from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education department along with interns from the Washington Internships for Native Students program (WINS). Echohawk explained the role of the Department of Interior and how it functions. He also shared stories from his life and the importance of Indian Country being represented on all levels.
Other activities included educational tours of the Jefferson Memorial, White House, Capitol Hill Walking Workshop, U. S. Marine Corps Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and the National Museum of the American Indian. Students also attended a seminar on college opportunities, scholarships and internship opportunities.
A few of the students who attended shared their feelings about the week.
“This trip allowed me the opportunity to get to know more about tribal issues and how we as Native Americans, have a responsibility to our people to fight for our rights and push for a change,” Katie Malone said.
“I’ve learned about a lot of opportunities to help Native Americans succeed in going to college and getting a job,” Norris Allred said.
“This was a fantastic opportunity to meet other Osage youth and explore our Nation’s Capital. This week of learning was most helpful in allowing me to make connections that will benefit me in the future,” Elise Clote said.
“This trip allowed me to learn that young people do have a voice and Native Country needs a bigger voice on the national scale,” Hud Oberly said.
“This trip taught me a lot. I’ve learned that I can make a difference for Indian Country and help my people. I plan to keep moving forward to help my tribe, because it’s up to me and other young Osages to make a change,” Sarah Ramirez said.
“Even though the Native Nations may seem all but lost, they are still here. They may not be as wide spread as they once were but all you have to do is look at us, Native youth, and you will know that we are still here. We are the future leaders so we need to learn how to lead,” Victoria George said.
The students selected were Elise Clote from Glendale, MO; Katie Malone from Pawhuska, OK; Nickole Dean from Shidler, OK; Victoria George from Carencro, LA; Sarah Ramirez from Skiatook, OK; Norris Allred from Pawhuska, OK; Franklin “Hud” Oberly from Norman, OK; Alaina Maker from Hominy, OK; Wilma Redcorn from Pawhuska, OK; and James “Beau” Bigheart from Stillwater, OK.
If you want to learn more about the National Indian Education Association and current Indian Education information please visit their website at www.NIEA.org.