Internship with Indian Law Alliance
Emily Pavelle ‘10, Anthropology Major
This January I had an internship at the American Indian Law Alliance (AILA) in New York City. The American Indian Law Alliance is an “indigenous, non-profit organization that works with Indigenous nations, communities and organizations in [their] struggle for sovereignty, human rights, and social justice for their peoples”. In October, while studying abroad in New Zealand, I researched law firms that specialize in Human Rights and American Indian law where I might apply for a January internship. I found AILA and sent a cover letter and resumé to the email address on the website. I knew very little about the organization beyond the information on the website.
When I returned home in November, I received a call from the President and Founder of AILA, Tonya Gonnella Frichner. We met to have lunch and discuss her organization and what I would do as an intern. I learned during the meeting that Tonya was recently appointed as the North American Regional Representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. I knew that Tonya was an attorney for American Indian rights, but I soon discovered the important role she plays in the world of indigenous rights more globally. We decided that I would work directly for Tonya in her home office as her legal intern.
I started work the next day and at first was given mostly simple tasks. However, the longer I worked for Tonya, the more interesting and important the work became. I started doing background research for speeches she was to make including a presentation at Georgetown; soon I was emailing important leaders in the indigenous community, often under my own name; eventually, I started helping her with work that involved the United Nations. Tonya increasingly trusted my abilities and the work I was doing for her. I was given the task of reformatting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and then she asked me to call the UN Missions of a few different countries. This last task, I learned later, was something of a test as some of these UN Mission offices were known for being reluctant to provide information to outsiders; however, I managed to get the contacts I had been looking for. This work, along with many of the other tasks that Tonya required, gave me invaluable insight into the diplomatic world.
I originally contacted the American Indian Law Alliance in the hopes of getting an internship in the legal field, and more specifically involving American Indian Law. Although I definitely got to see the legal side of AILA, my primary responsibilities really showed me the inner-workings both of a non-profit organization and of the United Nations. I had never before considered the idea of a career in diplomacy or international relations but the work I did with Tonya was extremely interesting, even from the perspective of an intern. Furthermore, Tonya has invited me to join her at the United Nations for the Eighth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in May 2009. I will be credentialed to listen to all of the United Nations meetings dealing with indigenous issues around the world. Given that I have always wanted to do international work, this is an incredible experience for me. I do not think that another internship over January could have provided me with a better career experience or anthropological perspective into the indigenous world.