Published on: Monday, June 18, 2012
University of St. Thomas law student Travis Clark has been selected as one of the Udall Foundation’s 2012 Native American Congressional Interns. A rising 2L, Clark was one of only 12 students in the country to receive the competitive 10-week summer internship located in Washington D.C. The Udall Foundation selects interns from a dozen different tribal affiliations. Clark is an enrolled member of both the Osage Nation and Cherokee Nation. However, he predominantly identifies himself as Osage due to his upbringing on the Osage reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
The Udall Foundation was established by Congress in 1992 with the purpose of providing scholarships to American Indian students who are pursuing tribal public policy careers. As a Udall intern, Clark will be working for the Office of the Solicitor, which is the in-house legal counsel for the U.S. Department of the Interior. Specifically, he will be working in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) division. The BIA is a federal agency that assists Tribal governments with a variety of issues including tribal citizenship requirements, federal trusts administered for the benefit of American Indians, and issues of tribal sovereignty.
Additionally, Clark will have the opportunity to personally meet a variety of high-profile politicians. The Udall Foundation has not announced this summer’s meeting schedule, but last year’s agenda included Secretary Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain, and Secretary Ken Salazar. “I couldn’t have dreamed up a more ideal internship. It will be all Tribal Law, all day, every day!” Clark says.
Clark began the arduous internship application process last October with a series of essay questions. Next, he secured three letters of recommendation from Tribal officials – two from Osage Nation members of Congress and one from a member of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council. Finally, he was required to submit his fall semester grades and class rank. The Foundation notified Clark of his acceptance in February.
Clark first became interested in tribal law when he recognized the great affect it has on him and his family. “[M]y tribe, as well as others, have been habitually swindled and mistreated… [t]he impacts are very real to me,” he says. For example, he describes the ongoing legal struggle between the federal government and the Osage Nation regarding oil ownership rights. Historically, businessmen wanted access to the oil-rich area of Oklahoma where the Osage Nation resided. Therefore, the federal government developed a system to lease oil rights. Oil companies paid royalties which were placed into a trust administered by the government. Each Osage member then received a “head right” entitling them to the percentage of the trust money.
However, many who were appointed as trust guardians mismanaged the money. As a result, many Osage members today do not own their family head rights. They are involved in litigation to reclaim money that could have been allocated for Tribal services such as health care, elder care, and scholarships. “The way I see it, a law degree is a means of fighting back in a way,” Clark says.
After his internship ends, Clark plans to combine a law degree and his past experience as a paramedic to help develop Native American health care policies. He emphasizes that every tribe is different and should be treated as such. A government policy that works for one particular tribe may not be as effective for another tribe. He lists the BIA or the Osage Nation as ideal places to work. “I foresee an entire career practicing in this area,” he says.