Journey from the Pacific North West to Washington, DC: A Makah’s Story

I would like to start by acknowledging my own privilege. I am an able bodied, cisgendered, light skinned, straight male from a middle class family. My father is Makah and Modoc and my mother is non-Native/white, and my older brother and I are enrolled members of the Makah Nation. I earned my Masters in Teaching from Western Washington State University in the Pacific Northwest after attending four different colleges to earn my bachelor’s degree, including a major state university, a state college, and two community colleges in Washington State and Arizona. There were many twists and turns along the way, but I was determined to pursue my education.

I participated in my first internship this spring during my final year as a graduate student. During previous summers, I worked to pay for college while volunteering in classrooms and other educational organizations as a way to build my resume. My brother introduced me to the Native American Political Leadership Program, after hearing about it from a friend. The program was in DC and was fully funded–including housing, transportation and tuition at George Washington University. This seemed like an incredible opportunity, so I applied for the spring semester. I was accepted and my internship application was selected by the Department of Education.

When I first arrived in DC in January, I immediately noticed new things. Certain materialistic cultural markers were new to me–tan trench coats, Burberry scarves, blue suits, and umbrellas (we don’t use those in the PNW so I found them very unfamiliar and kinda funny). Everyone seemed to be aware of the information in the free political paper, Politico. I was encouraged to read it to help understand what was happening in the political bubble that is DC. To me, these markers signified that DC was encased in an elitist culture and that I would have to fake it to make it in some regard. I did not care about many of the issues in Politico, as my community and the things I did care about were not represented in the articles. What I do care about are Native educational issues and my desire to access as many spaces as I can in order to open the floodgates for Native youth.

Reading #InternsSoRich prompted me to think about the opportunities and Native programs that I have been privileged and honored to be part of. These programs, College Horizons, Graduate Horizons and NAPLP, made significant differences in my life. These programs helped set a path to my future and provided me with mentorship, social and intellectual capital. Most importantly, they have given me the opportunity to form friendships with other American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian students who are doing incredible work for Indian country and their communities.

The following are national programs, resources and DC internships specific to Native students. The information comes directly from the websites of each program. Please email me (nickcourtney91@gmail.com) to learn more or get help in applying to these programs. I stand on the shoulders of giants who have shared program information and helped me with applications. It is my turn to pay it forward to others! Most of these programs are fully funded-including housing, transportation and stipends for living expenses.

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Programs for High School Students:

  • College Horizons – This program is a pre-college program for Native American high school students, open to current sophomores and juniors. Students work with college counselors and college admissions officers in a five-day “crash course” during summer. The individualized program helps students select suitable colleges, apply, gain admission, and secure adequate financial aid. Students research their top 10 schools, complete college essays, resumes, the Common Application, and the preliminary FAFSA. They also learn interviewing skills and test-taking strategies (on the ACT and SAT), and receive financial aid/scholarship information.

DC Specific

  • INSPIRE Pre-College Program– This full scholarship program is open to Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian rising junior and senior high school students who want to spend 3-weeks on the George Washington University (GW) campus to learn about intergovernmental relations between tribal governments and the federal government. The program involves an experiential undergraduate course (full-day), Native Politics and the American Political System, taught by GW faculty, which offers opportunities for students to meet and interview influential Native advocates working in Washington, DC. Students from all tribes are welcome to apply. The Washington Internships for Native Students (WINS) offers students of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian (AI/AN/NH) nations the opportunity to build leadership and advocacy skills while living, studying, and interning in Washington, DC. Developed in response to the White House Initiative on American Indians and Alaska Natives, this enriching program offers qualified students full scholarships funded by American University and sponsoring organizations.

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Programs for College Students:

  • Graduate Horizons – This four-day workshop is geared for Native college students and college graduates, preparing for graduate school (master’s, Ph.D. or professional school). Graduate Horizons partners with 45 university graduate/professional degree programs. Admission officers, professors and deans mentor and advise students on the admissions process, professional/career development, and the various fields of study, research, and graduate programs available. Participants of the program complete graduate ready personal statements/statements of purpose, resumes/cvʼs and applications; receive test-taking strategies (on the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT) by the Princeton Review Foundation; learn the financial aid process for graduate school; learn about graduate scholarship/fellowship opportunities; and attend seminars on the various aspects of the admissions process (selecting faculty/professional recommenders, determining the right fit/match in a degree program, role of direct/relevant work experience, etc).

DC Specific

  • The Washington Internships for Native Students (WINS) – Students intern with Native advocacy and government agencies across Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Health, Economic, Social Service, Law, and Public Policy disciplines. WINS’s experiential curriculum develops student’s professional skills of self-determined community development and public advocacy. Most students receive a full scholarship to attend the program through funding provided by American University, governmental agencies, American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian organizations, Tribes, foundations and private corporations. The scholarship covers the cost of tuition, travel to and from Washington DC, lodging, a meal plan, and the cost of scheduled social and cultural activities.
  • Native American Political Leadership Program (NAPLP) – The Native American Political Leadership Program (NAPLP) is a full scholarship program for Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students who want to take part in the Semester in Washington Politics at George Washington University. It is open to undergraduate and graduate students, including those who have completed their undergraduate degree but have not yet enrolled in a graduate program. All NAPLP students participate in the SIWP Internship Program. NAPLP students will work with a team to find an opportunity that fits their professional goals. They are welcome to explore any and all internships in the DC area. However, NAPLP partners with several offices and organizations around town to place many of our students in internships related to Native policy and politics. NAPLP is made possible by a generous grant from the AT&T Foundation.
    • Richard M. Milanovich Fellowship– In addition to the two core courses students will take in the Native American Political Leadership Program, Fellowship students will attend a special week-long seminar series that consists of briefings with key policy makers, issue advocates, and community leaders in Washington.
  • Udall Foundation Native American Congressional Internship – The Native American Congressional Internship Program provides American Indian and Alaska Native students with the opportunity to gain practical experience with the federal legislative process in order to understand first-hand the government-to-government relationship between Tribes and the federal government. The internship is funded by the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy.

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Having Native interns in all offices in DC is hugely important and beneficial to all parties and individuals involved. It enhances the environment of an entire office building, shifts power dynamics and brings rich indigenous knowledge to a space. These programs can provide positive opportunities for our youth and communities. Our small disbursed populations  make us easy to marginalize and ignore. While I support other communities gaining seats at the table of influence, it is my hope that our own communities gain greater presence at the table and that our truths are listened to and actions made to support us accordingly. We need you and your voice here alongside us. Having recently made the journey, I know that coming to a city like DC can be intimidating. However, this city has individuals in it that share your story and are here to help you succeed. We are just a phone call or an email away and happy to meet you, talk with you and support you in any way we can.

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