Connecting with American Indians

August 20, 2016

Internships allow students to explore their life’s path

Growing up, 21-year-old Angela Sas knew she wanted a career that would let her help others. But she could not envision what it would be.

Last summer, the Johnson County Community College student volunteered at a community-run permaculture farm in Nicaragua that focuses on environmentally sound practices that are economically viable. It was a great experience, she said, but afterward she remained unsure of which major field of study she should pursue.

This summer, after spending a week in July working with young people on an Indian reservation in north central South Dakota, she sees her future more clearly.

“I realized that I had been doing a lot of public health in the past and I already had a passion for it,” she said. “I just didn’t know what public health was last year.”

JCCC, KU Medical Center lead

Sas was one of 10 students from across the nation who took part in the AIHREA Student Summer Internship Program, led annually by Sean M. Daley, director of the Center for American Indian Studies at JCCC and Christine M. Daley, director of the Center for American Indian Community Health at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

The program gives students a chance to work on community-based research projects with American Indian communities in Kansas and throughout the Plains region. During the eight-week paid internship, the students worked on ways to encourage American Indians to stop smoking and chewing tobacco and to embrace education and healthy diets and relationships. They also learned about the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation before visiting it.

“This was our fourth summer working up there,” said Sean Daley, who also spent his sabbatical there last year. “We have a nice relationship with them,” he said. “They know us and we know them.”

About the reservation

The remote reservation has fewer than 10,000 residents. It has an unemployment rate of about 85 percent and a per capita income of about $7,300 a year. There is one food store and three schools. Few go to college. One in every five teenage girls on the reservation contemplate suicide; one in 10 attempts it.

Though the statistics sound grim, Sean Daley said he sees a lot of positive changes.

“The tribe is doing a lot to combat the issues up there. They are trying to get businesses to move to the reservation; over the past few years they managed to get a Subway and Dairy Queen to open. They are currently building a movie theater. They also have several programs for the youth, including a summer recreation program and Head Start.”

Connecting with the young people

Dasy Resendiz, an intern on the trip, said it didn’t take long to bond with the elementary and high school students. The interns incorporated basketball (it’s the favorite sport on the reservation) and made up other games with prizes to get their points across.

“The kids were awesome,” Resendiz said shortly after their return. “I already miss them.”

Applying for next summer

The internship program began in 2010; 80 students have participated to date.  Most are from Kansas and Missouri but the program draws from across the nation. This summer, one was from Boston University; another was from Arizona State University.

Also this summer, half of the interns had connections to JCCC. That was the most ever.  “It’s amazing to see how many of our students are out there and making a difference in people’s lives,” Sean Daley said.

Applications for next summer will be due in early March. If you are interested, contact Sean Daley or Christine Daley.

Above photo by Matthew Kleinmann.

The interns stopped at the Badlands National Park in South Dakota on their way to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. Pictured are, back row from left: Aspen Bell (KU), Clara Martin (Boston Univ), Christina Haswood (Arizona State U), Oliver Doerr (UMKC), Jordan Shepherd (JCCC), Cate Heil (KU Medical School)

Front row from left: Alexandra Knauss (JCCC), Angela Sas (recent JCCC graduate, attending Truman State this fall), Anna Carson (JCCC transfer student, going to KSU this fall), Dasy Resendiz (recent JCCC graduate, now at KU)