Indian Interns Learn Ways of Hill

By Krum, Angie | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Indian Interns Learn Ways of Hill


Krum, Angie, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


When the rain pours down, Troy Honahnie doesn't wish it away like many people. Instead, he smiles up at the great sky and prays for the water to reach his home state - Arizona.

He misses his grandfather's voice. For the past four weeks, his mornings have begun on the streets of Washington. Here he enters a world of job-crazy people, nonstop traffic and uncomfortable Metro rides to Capitol Hill. It is a world far different from his own.

Mr. Honahnie ordinarily lives on a Hopi reservation. This summer, he is one of 10 interns with the first class of the Morris K. Udall Foundation, which provides six-week, all-expenses-paid congressional internships for American Indians.

Working with Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, Mr. Honahnie has a hand in legislative matters and Indian affairs.

Congress established the foundation to honor the late Arizona congressman after whom it is named and began funding it in 1991. Its authorized budget for this year is $40 million, and so far it's spent about half of that, says foundation chairman Terrence Bracy.

"Udall spent a lifetime as a champion of Native Americans and Alaskan natives," Mr. Bracy says. "When I got to the Hill in '66, internships were just starting. A smattering of minorities came in during the civil rights movement ... then bright, young women came in. But I never saw the face of a Native American.

"These students are right out of the tribes; they bring a breath of fresh air," he says.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, sees the Udall program as an opportunity as well. "These young men and women learn firsthand how government operates. It's also a great chance for us to learn from them," he says.

Each intern is a member of a federally recognized tribe, has completed at least two years of college and has a grade-point average of 3.2 or higher. Seven of the interns are from Arizona, and three are Oklahoma residents. Their daily activities include reviewing legislative correspondence, writing speeches and briefs and arranging hearings. Symposiums and museum trips also are being planned.

Although learning their way around the city is an adventure, each student came with a direct purpose in mind.

"Some people have no idea we exist. I want to change that," says Scott Perry, a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

Garett Holm, an intern with Rep. Ed Pastor, Arizona Democrat, is concerned about the economy and future of his Cherokee/Muscogee/Creek tribe - which numbers about 300,000 and is the largest in the United States. He wants to gather information he can use back home as a teacher on the San Carlos Apache reservation.

Right now, he focuses on everyday images and stereotypes, common ignorances he hopes to dispel. "Every day I pass by the Rotunda and see images of a pioneer stepping on a dead Indian. After 500 years, nothing's changed," Mr. Holm says.

"They [many congressmen] think we're a cultural relic, and it's frustrating being here," he says. "Do I try to be part of a system that doesn't care about me in the first place?"

On the other hand, Mr. Holm says the fact that the interns are on Capitol Hill paves the way for dialogue. …

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