Udall Undergraduate Scholarship

Meet Our Scholars - Alumni Spotlights - Eric Rodriguez

Eric Rodriguez grew up in a housing project on the Yakama Reservation in Washington state. There was nothing for kids to do but drink, party, and use drugs, and nowhere to play except in a street that was littered with empty beer bottles and broken glass. Unemployment and poverty were (and still are) endemic to the reservation.

His first job was when he was twelve years old, and he’s been working ever since. In 2006 he started working as a volunteer firefighter, but he soon felt he could make more a contribution to his community as a Community Policing Officer. For three years he worked 50 to 60 hours a week answering calls for domestic violence, drunk driving, and suicide.

It was the suicides that fueled his resolve to do more to help his people. In just two months, three teenagers committed suicide by hanging. Eric was the first officer on the scene; he was the one who cut down each victim to administer CPR. Frustrated by the hopelessness and futility that led these teenagers to take their lives, and the inability of tribal government to help his people, Eric resolved to go back to school and earn a law degree so that he could have an impact on tribal policy in the future.

It was a huge leap to make; not only is Eric the first in his family to attend college, he decided that he wanted to be in Washington, D.C. in order to be at the center of Indian law and policy. The culture shock was enormous, but Eric found a wonderful support system at the university in his anthropology professors and the Office of Merit Awards.

Currently in his first year of law school at the University of New Mexico, Eric hopes in five years to be a tribal prosecutor or in-house counsel for the Yakama Nation. For Eric, what matters is the satisfaction of knowing he’ll be helping his tribe implement on-the-ground policy that will strengthen the community in the long run.