Student Profiles

Betzabel Vazquez

BSILR '19

Credit Internship Program

National Indian Education Association

In Fall’17, I worked  for the National Indian Education Association (NIEA). My main project was to develop and create an interactive media campaign for National Native-American Heritage Month. Throughout the month of November, it was my responsibility to send out media posts to NIEA members and the greater Native-American community on topics centered around Native culture, history, education, fashion, and other topics of interest to Native people today. I really liked doing this project, because it required me to research and learn more about Native-American history as a part of American history which is typically eradicated and overlooked. Additionally, I helped prepare NIEA for its big conference in October by updating member information and updating their new app for the conference. One of my favorite projects throughout my time at NIEA was going to the Hill and writing summary reports for the policy team at NIEA can use to stay informed.

The best thing about my internship was hands down the people I worked with. My co-workers came into work every day ready to tackle a new problem concerning Native-American education. But they often did not stop there. They looked at a plethora of issues that can impact Native education and how to possibly alleviate some of those issues as well. The solution to some of the issues often discussed were Native-American Immersion Schools, which serve as a hub for Native-American linguistic, cultural and academic revitalization. I loved how most of my co-workers were Native-American, because it made the information I was learning through my research more real after talking to them about it. I loved how they uplifted one another, and brought Native culture into the office every day to symbolize the importance of their work. I really enjoyed working at NIEA, and my love for this internship primarily from the strong bonds I build with my co-workers at NIEA.

Prior to interning at NIEA, I never thought about Native-Americans and some of the current struggles they are facing on reservations. My ignorance on the magnitude and the seriousness of some of these issues showed one day while I was eating lunch with a few of my co-workers. We were discussing the hurricane in Puerto Rico and how the government handled the situation. During this discussion, one of my co-workers says, “Every time I think about Puerto Rico, I think about all the Native reservations that are not getting the same publicity. This happens all the time in Native communities, but you don’t see money going to them. Native people do not have clean water; there are some reservations who have not and still do not have electricity.”

A couple things ran through my head at that moment. As a Puerto-Rican, I wanted to explain to her the severity of the problem in Puerto Rico. As an activist, I wanted to explain to her how bad it is to pin different marginalized groups against each other. But as her co-worker, I just listened to their conversation about her comment. It was at that moment that I realized there is an entire world that I often do not recognize or think about. I recognized that I was privileged that my people had garnered enough media support to get help, whereas Native communities are not as lucky. Native communities are thought to be non-existent to many ordinary Americans – including myself prior to this internship. In that moment, I learned to check my own biases and listen to other groups, because they often have something important to say. This was probably one of the most important lessons I learned from my internship.