Traci McClellan-Sorell (Cherokee), 1996 Udall Intern
It has been 20 years since Traci McClellan-Sorell was selected to be a part of the first cohort of the Udall Foundation’s Native American Congressional Internship Program in Washington, D.C. She spent the summer of 1996 working in the Office of Senator John McCain and with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
“The caliber of the work you got to do, the meetings you got to sit in on, and the people you got to work with were incredible. I had an amazing experience,” she recalls.
Through the Udall Internship, Traci gained practical experience with the federal legislative process that helped her to better understand the government-to-government relationships between Tribes and the federal government.
“It was an eye-opening experience to learn how the Hill operates, and the lack of attention Indian issues generally receive,” she remembers. “Native nations are continuously evolving, so increasing that awareness and visibility is key in helping the federal government to understand the importance of tribal sovereignty.”
Over the last 20 years, Traci has worked hard to increase awareness and visibility of important issues facing Indian country. After earning her law degree from the University of Wisconsin, she spent time in D.C. supporting Native health issues before moving to Albuquerque to advocate for Native elders.
Now a wife and mother, Traci’s most recent mission is to educate Native and non-Native youth about tribal cultures, which, she says, often gets short attention in educational curricula. She also writes children’s books that use Cherokee and Native characters to share cultural values like gratitude and collaboration with a broader audience. Her first nonfiction picture book will be published in 2018.
“Our children require so much more to thrive in this global community. Our Nations are not limited to the boundaries they occupy and there is a higher level skill set required—more than just knowing your own community,” she said. “There are larger systems in place—political, social, and economic. Education in all of these places is important.”
Traci credits programs like the Udall Internship for a heightened awareness of American Indian issues. “It is critical to maintain the pipeline of students going to D.C.,” she said. “The Udall Foundation continues to have some of the most wonderful minds and people in Indian country representing the Internship. Those folks are going on to do wonderful things in their communities and in D.C.”
Traci continues to meet with, and mentor, Udall Interns and encourages them to appreciate that a lot of hard work has already been done. “Recognize that you enjoy much more visibility than we did then. Use your visibility to Indian country’s advantage,” she said. “Every little thing you do for Indian country not only benefits you, but future generations.”
“You can do anything if you are willing to work hard and sacrifice. I have a life now that I never imagined as a child... but I feel like the best is still ahead of me, and that’s just exciting!”