By Ruth Steinhardt
Wendy Helgemo has joined the George Washington University as inaugural director of the AT&T Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy (CIPP), a GW-based research and advocacy center established in February that provides support to tribal leaders and promotes public awareness on issues of national significance to indigenous communities, including public health, adequate housing, economic security and education.
“I am grateful to Wendy Helgemo for agreeing to lead the challenge of launching a new center,” said Ali Eskandarian, dean of the College of Professional Studies. “She brings a tremendous level of experience and knowledge as well as enthusiasm and energy to GW.”
“CIPP is a place where politics and policy meet GW’s research capability and expand upon its existing commitments to diversity and to the Native American community,” Ms. Helgemo said. “We’re also mere steps from Capitol Hill, where decisions are made every day that impact Indian country. So our goal is to be a bridge between GW, lawmakers, tribes and tribal leaders to develop stronger policy in support of Native Americans.”
Ms. Helgemo, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, has more than 20 years of experience in indigenous law and policy. She most recently was senior advisor on Indian affairs to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), J.D. ’64. Before her tenure with Reid, she worked as director of governmental affairs for the National American Indian Housing Council and as in-house counsel for multiple federally recognized Native American tribes.
“We’re very fortunate to have Wendy in this position,” said Gregory Lebel, director emeritus of NAPLP. “Obviously she knows national politics, having worked in the Senate, but she also has experience in tribal government as well as policy research and advocacy.”
Ms. Helgemo said that CIPP “will work with tribes and tribal leaders to identify areas of need, whether that means studying economic development issues, health care or anything else. We’ll also partner with other programs across the country, including universities out west that have significant Native American programming and national tribal organizations that do advocacy and policy work. So the center will be able to assist in meeting the needs as they evolve.”
Since 2006, approximately 250 Native American, Alaska native, and native Hawaiian students have developed their academic and leadership skills in Washington, D.C., through GW’s Native American Political Leadership Program (NAPLP) and the INSPIRE Native Teens Pre-College Program. Both programs provide full scholarships for indigenous students, funded by AT&T, and will continue to be offered under the auspices of the new center.
“What struck me when I arrived at GW was the energy,” Ms. Helgemo said. “There is an intellectual creativity and curiosity here that is really exciting. I’m especially inspired by the Native American students whom I met in the summer session: They’re like sponges, committed to taking in all the information coming at them. You can tell how personal these issues are to them, because they want to take what they’ve learned back to their tribes and their communities.”