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Legacy Stories – Summer 2015

Listening, Learning, Connecting, Belonging

Kristie Johnson, 2014 Udall Intern

I work for a small native-owned company, Kauffman & Associates, as a Project Specialist in the research and evaluation department. We work with the federal government to create a dialogue and partnerships with tribal nations. Many of our projects, for instance, are with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We educate tribal communities about the Affordable Care Act, how it impacts their health care, and their options for health insurance coverage.

Recently, Kauffman & Associates assisted with the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education Listening Sessions. It was such an amazing and humbling experience. I was intimidated at first: after all, it’s the White House! Our final report will go to the President of the United States. But once I got out into the communities, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. The listening sessions were phenomenal; hundreds of individuals coming together, becoming a unified voice in Indian country. No longer are we going to let our Native youth fall behind.

I’m from a small community in Utah’s Monument Valley: Oljato, which means “moon reflecting off of the water” in Navajo. I had strong women in my family. My grandmother is perhaps the wisest person I know. Education comes in many forms, and I’ve always respected her. She knew that as the world was changing, I needed to have the skills to better assist my family, community, and future generations to come. She knew the importance of obtaining an education. She encouraged and supported all my educational endeavors, attended every graduation ceremony and awards event, and she was always proud of everything I did. She would say to me, “You can do anything you want as a Navajo woman.” My family is my strength; I feel as if there’s nothing I can’t do. Even when I fall short of the mark, I think, I can do that again. I can learn and grow from any experience.

Case in point—the Udall Internship. I had applied the year before without success, but this time I prepared really well. I would tell anyone, “Don’t be discouraged if you don’t make it the first time; think of it as a learning experience. You can only go up from here.”

I’m thankful I had the opportunity—I learned so much from the other Udall Interns. I know that at some point we’re going to be working together again. I see quite a few Udall alumni in Washington, D.C., and also reached out to Udall alumni in other parts of the country during the listening sessions.

It can be difficult to be so far away from my family and my people. That is where my heart is. But I am doing good work here in Washington, D.C., ensuring that the policies that are taking shape come from the Native perspective. Reconnecting with your community after being away for so long can be a difficult transition. From experience, I know this to be true—however, I don’t let others try to define my identity, I know who I am. Rather, I get involved and help those who need assistance, such as the elders and youth. Everyone just wants someone to listen and connect to. I feel this is how I merge myself back into the community. But I know who I am and what my purpose is. That’s what keeps me going.

For more information on the Udall Foundation’s Native American Congressional Internship, visit www.udall.gov/OurPrograms/Internship/Internship.aspx.