Fourteen high school students from 14 Pueblo Nations in New Mexico will visit the Woodrow Wilson School from June 14-22, as part of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute’s Summer Policy Academy (SPA).
The program, co-founded and co-directed by Regis Pecos ’77, chief of staff to the New Mexico House of Representatives Majority Floor Leader and director of legislative affairs for the House Majority Office, brings American Indian rising seniors and recent high school graduates to the Wilson School for a weeklong program to explore issues facing American Indian communities.
Hosted every year at the Wilson School since 2008, SPA is an important symbol of WWS’ commitment to cultural diversity, said Melissa Lyles, graduate admissions officer and social media strategist at the School.
“It’s exciting when we can connect with a Princeton alum who shares our vision of encouraging young people to pursue careers in public service, particularly students who bring a different voice to the policy table,” Lyles said.
Pecos, a retired Princeton trustee and a member of the Cochiti Pueblo, said the program is designed to give young Native American students the opportunity to appreciate where they come from and what it takes to be successful without compromising essential core values.
“We are grateful to Princeton that it supports this rare educational opportunity and recognizes how this experience can become a life changing experience for these young Native students, as it did for me nearly 30 years ago,” Pecos said. “It is by far one of the most unique opportunities for these students, and the impact of the program has been profound.”
Students are selected for the program after being nominated by their teachers, community leaders, business professionals and their tribal leaders.
Through intensive discussions, case studies and presentations by American Indian leaders and academics, students explore how federal policies affect native tribal communities. They specifically focus on issues related to education, language, environment and health.
This year’s program will explore the impact of voter I.D. and Native American participation in local, state and national elections; the changing demographics of tribal communities, where citizens ages 30 and younger are becoming the majority; the place of language, culture and Native American history in education, access, equity and justice; redefining community development; mascots and ending the legacy of racism; and the impact of major water projects on Native American lands.
After meeting as a whole, students are then divided into groups where they discuss policy issues, conduct research and write position papers on the topics discussed.
At the end of the program, they travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with policy makers and deliver their position papers to Members of Congress and the National Congress of American Indians. In 2012, students met with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’77.
This year’s faculty for the program include: Casey Douma, attorney and member of the Laguna Pueblo; Preston Sanchez, a member of the Laguna and Jemez Pueblos; Tina Harte, faculty member at Santa Fe Indian School and member of the San Felipe Pueblo; Rebecca Rae, faculty member at the University of New Mexico School of Regional Planning and member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation; Pecos; and Kevin Gover ’78, director of the National Museum of the American Indian and member of the Comanche tribe.