Student sees Native American legal history in the making as Udall intern in D.C.

July 22, 2022
Jessica Pouley Deb Haaland
Law student Jessica Pouley and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Jessica Pouley

It’s been a packed summer for legal issues surrounding tribal sovereignty and Native American rights, and Seattle University School of Law student Jessica Pouley has had the opportunity to experience it up close in Washington, D.C., working on legislative research and analysis.

Pouley is one of only 11 students nationally who were selected for the prestigious Native American Congressional Internship, a program run by the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation and the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy.

The students complete an intensive nine-week internship in the nation’s capital and have access to various training and enrichment opportunities. Pouley, a rising 3L and direct descendant of the Colville Tribe, has interned this summer at the Department of the Interior in the Indian Affairs division of the Office of the Solicitor.

“I’m grateful for the rich experience I've gained working in Washington, D.C., with other Native law students and scholars,” Pouley said. “It’s been both difficult and inspiring to work on current issues facing Indian Country at a time when legal decisions are challenging tribal sovereignty. I've grown so much from this program and will take many lessons forward in my continued work for tribal communities.”

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta that federal and state governments have the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Natives on tribal land, a dramatic reversal in legal precedent and history. Pouley said the decision has had a major impact on federal Indian law and the analysis of issues.

The program’s newest class of Udall Interns comprises 11 students representing 10 tribes and 10 universities from around the country. The Udall Interns were selected by an independent review committee based on academic achievement, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to careers in tribal public policy.

Pouley said she’s been able to cultivate deep relationships with fellow Native law students and especially enjoyed meeting Deb Haaland, the country’s first Native American Secretary of the Interior, who shared inspiring thoughts about the importance of working on legal issues affecting tribal communities.

The Udall interns also met with representatives from the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Aspen Institute Center for Native American Youth, and others.

The internship provides Native American and Alaska Native undergraduate, graduate, and law students with the opportunity to gain practical experience with the federal legislative process, helping them  understand firsthand the relationship between tribes and the federal government. Previous Seattle U Law participants in the program include Bree Black Horse '13, Charisse Arce '14, and Elisabeth Guard '17.

The Morris K. Udall Foundation was established by the U.S. Congress in 1992 as an independent executive branch agency to honor Morris K. Udall's lasting impact on the environment, public lands, and natural resources, and his support of the rights and self-governance of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. In 2009, Congress enacted legislation to also honor Stewart L. Udall for his half century of distinguished national leadership in environmental and Native American policy. The agency, known today as the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona.

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