In the summer of 2013, Byron "Craig" Williams, Jr. received the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to further his career dream of working on behalf of Indian tribes through lobbying and legal representation. The Udall Foundation selected him for the prestigious Native American Congressional Internship Program.
A member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Williams is now in his third year at the University of New Mexico School of Law pursuing a certificate in Indian Law. "The Udall Internship is the premier fellowship program for interns," says Williams. "It was an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about the federal government and issues affecting Indian Country."
Williams reviews the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek at National Archives. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was the final land cession treaty between the Choctaws and the United States.
During his internship at the Office of Tribal Justice in the United States Department of Justice, Williams worked on multiple legal issues relevant to Indian affairs. "I spent time researching court records and filings, codes, and Congressional testimony," he says. "I was in the Department of Justice library every day; the librarians knew me by name."
He was also exposed to the interworking of the relationship between the federal government and several Native American Tribes. "I learned about how intergovernmental policy is shaped including the complexities inherent in working with multiple agencies," says Williams. "I gained firsthand experience in analyzing and crafting federal policies relevant to Tribes."
Williams met with policymakers, tribal leaders, and national tribal advocacy organizations through the Native American Bar Association of D.C. "NABA DC sponsors a Summer Brown Bag lunch series with law firms, Congressional offices, White House staff members, and staff from the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies," explains Williams. The Brown Bag lunches provide interns interested in Indian law with the opportunity to meet with the leaders of these offices, and learn about what they do.
The strong network of UNM School of Law alumni in D.C. provided friendship, mentorship, and connections. "I met many UNM Law alumni during the summer," he says. "They were so supportive and helpful. They helped me make connections I wouldn't have made otherwise. I felt as if I was part of a family out there and it was special to have a support network in a place like Washington, D.C."
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs and Former UNM School of Law Dean Kevin Washburn and Rodina Cave, Senior Advisor to Washburn, provided support and encouragement.
Williams discovered that the Director of the Office of Tribal Justice, Tracy Toulou, is a UNM School of Law alumna. Williams also reconnected with Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, the former Dean of UNM School of Law prior to his appointment by President Obama in 2012. "His work is impressive. He's leading the Bureau of Indian Affairs and still made time to meet with me," says Williams. "That says a lot about the UNM School of Law community."
"UNM Law Adjunct Professor Rodina Cave has been one of my strongest supporters since my time in the Pre-Law Summer Institute before I began law school," he adds. "Although Rodina had recently started in her position as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, she also made time to support me as much as possible. It meant the world to me to have a mentor and friend like Rodina there for me."
Williams and the Office of Tribal Justice interns spent time with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Other UNM Law Alumni, such as Richard Frias, (‘11), Carrie Frias (‘09), and John Harte (‘96) helped Williams navigate life in DC and opened doors to for him to meet with other lobbyists and attorneys. "The UNM Law family was a major factor in helping me make the most of my summer in DC and having the best summer experience of my life. I look forward to moving to DC and paying it forward to UNM Law students."
Colorado Senator Mark Udall and New Mexico Senator Tom Udall welcomed Williams to the internship.
The 2013 interns of the Udall Congressional Internship Program