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In His Own Words: Dennis Worden To Work in Congress as Hatfield Fellow

Dennis Worden, a 2006 University of Oregon alumnus, is the recipient of the 2006-07 Hatfield Fellowship, bestowed annually by The Spirit Mountain Community Fund and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.

Each year, The Hatfield Fellowship enables a Native American to serve as a staff member among Oregon’s congressional delegation. The Hatfield Fellow serves as a liaison between the congressional member and the Tribes on issues that affect Native Americans and as a resource for the entire Oregon delegation. The program was created in 1998 as a remembrance of the contributions made by Mark O. Hatfield, former Governor of Oregon and United States Senator.

Worden, who will soon turn 23, will move to Washington D.C. for nine months to gain knowledge about the legislative processes at the congressional level while serving as a staffer for Congressman David Wu of Oregon. The fellowship provides a stipend of about $49,500 for the duration of service (approximately 500 per month); $2,500 for moving expenses; up to $2,500 for the two district visits back to Oregon; and $5,000 for the orientation fee. The program is funded by Spirit Mountain Community Fund through the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Worden is a Coeur d’Alene tribal member who has already begun to lay a strong foundation toward his goals. He graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography, has served as a Legislative Affairs Intern for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, a Legislative Intern for the Department of Treasury-Financial Service, and a Budget Intern for the Department of Treasury-Financial Service.

He also demonstrated his dedication to public service by making a contribution to campus issues, such as outreach programs for at-risk high school and middle school students and community building among students of color. According to Worden, his ultimate goal is to practice Indian Law “because law plays a critical role in the lives of tribal members everywhere.” He intends to focus on making a difference in Oregon Indian Country and the Pacific Northwest.

“With a combination of what he already knows, what he hopes to learn as the Hatfield Fellow and his passion to help Native people, there is no doubt that he will make a difference in Indian Country,” said Kluane Baer of the Spirit Mountain Community Fund.

In His Own Words, Worden shares his perspective about what he has learned thus far from the experience and what he hopes to accomplish.

What are some of the highlights of your academic and civic accomplishments? Conducting independent research for a project through the McNair Scholars Program is definitely an academic achievement I am proud of. I received guidance from Professor Alec Murphy, but the work that is designed to create new ideas were my own. It was a great learning experience that will be valuable to me in the future. Another academic accomplishment was getting the opportunity to be on the Southwest Oregon Research Project (S.W.O.R.P) team this summer. The project collects documents from the federal government relating to Indians of present day Oregon. It was a great experience to work in the National Archives and look at documents over 100 years old and recognize names of people mentioned in the documents.

Civic accomplishments would include working for the Oregon Young Scholars Program. The program is designed for at risk high school students to attend advanced classes and live in a dorm atmosphere. I was able to see the students grow in the short duration of the program. It felt good to participate in a program like this and see the high school students grow academically. Participating in the Office of Multicultural Academic Support Student Leadership Team was also a civic highlight. We were able to build community and hopefully improve our community through improving our leadership skills by organizing and facilitating events within the University of Oregon community.

What made you decide to apply for the Hatfield Fellowship? I was interested in working for Indian Country, and I wanted to work in a political environment. The two interests coincide extremely well with the goals of the Hatfield Fellowship. Through the fellowship, I am able to work in issues in Indian Country, as well as work in Congress for a representative. It gives me a tremendous opportunity to gain valuable work experience for future careers.

Now that you have completed the orientation phase, what have you learned so far? The monthlong fellowship went fast. I learned that building relationships into a network is a non-stop job. It is also an essential part of being successful in Washington. And while people are here for a serious purpose, it’s just as important to relax and make time for yourself. Congress is also a complex entity that is difficult to understand and that my whole fellowship duration will be a learning process about how it works.

What do you expect to accomplish during your tenure? I hope that while I am the Hatfield fellow I can learn as much about the political process and how it relates to Indian Country as possible. I also hope to build a strong network of business contacts and friends that will last into the future that I can contact after the fellowship ends. I also hope to learn about the policy and political aspects of issues in Indian Country. Finally, I want to enjoy the time I spend in Washington and hope to get to see other parts of the East Coast.

Could you elaborate on your goal to practice Indian Law? Why do you think this is important? Indian Law is a career interest of mine because it is so important to the daily lives of Indian Country. The historical relationships that have been developed with tribes and the United States, and continue to exist, are important to understand to protect our people. If I could do this through practicing Indian Law, I would feel good about this as a career.

Winter 2007

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