Lee Named as the First “Cultural Sovereignty Fellow” for Assocation on American Indian Affairs


Jessica Lee Graduation

 Jessica Lee at the University of Central Oklahoma May 2018 graduation

The Association on American Indian Affairs, based in Rockville, Md., has a nearly 100-year-old history of Native American advocacy and influence of federal Indian policy. Created in 1922, some of their greatest achievements include helping to create the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the protection of multiple Native sacred sites.

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes is now part of their history with the selection of tribal member Jessica Lee as their first-ever Cultural Sovereignty Fellow.

Lee, 24, is a first-generation college graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in history. This spring, she served as an intern with the tribe's grant from the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative and was also selected as the Education Services program's "College Student of the Year."

Beginning this past July, Lee will complete her fellowship in July 2019. At press time, Lee was in the middle of preparations for the LSAT in order to gain a Fall 2019 admittance to law school. Before applying to the AAIA fellowship, Lee used her research skills gained in her history studies to gain an understanding of the organization's past achievements.

"I thought it would be a really great opportunity because I want to go to law school," Lee said. "That's what they do is work on legislation and advocating for Native American rights. That's why I really wanted to do it."

With AAIA being located near the Washington, D.C. area, much of Lee's duties are related to the researching and writing of potential legislation on behalf of Native people. Currently, her work includes "making sure that states and private adoption agencies are complying with ICWA," Lee said. "Last week, I was working on NAGPRA revisions and juvenile detention alternatives. We're wanting to do research into what tribes across the country are already doing with regards to juvenile detention alternatives."

Lee is also working on compiling a history of the work that AAIA has accomplished in almost 100 years. According to the organization's executive director, Shannon Keller O'Loughlin, "Ms. Lee's demonstrated dedication to Indian Country and impressive writing skills are exactly what we need to tackle our important history project for AAIA's nearing 100-year anniversary."

According to Lee, being a part of the Elder Justice internship gave her the training needed to be a part of the Cultural Sovereignty fellowship, especially in regards to interviewing people with ICWA-related experiences. Her supervisor on the Elder Justice internship was Misty Boettger, the Education Services Administrator. Boettger said that "by being a part of the internship, [Lee] learned the importance of our elders. This type of experience will go with her with anything else she may be involved in. Learning from our elders is what we want to encourage our youth to do, and that is exactly what she did."

When not involved with research projects or writing for AAIA, Lee uses her weekends to see every national landmark she can that is in the D.C. area.

Jessica Lee at Jefferson Memorial

 Jessica Lee touring the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

"It's a pretty big adjustment," Lee said about living in the D.C. metro region. "It's a lot different from what I'm used to. I'm exposed to a lot of different cultures up here. There's so many different people from all over the world in this area. I didn't really get too much of that in Oklahoma. There's all different types of food to try."

In addition to being an enrolled Wichita, Lee is also of Kickapoo descent. She is the daughter of Jason Lee and Randie Roundtree. In an article published in the April 2018 edition ofWichita Tribal News, Lee stated her family background.

"I am a direct descendant of Se-ah-to 'Sylvia' Stephenson Campbell (Nuss Stephenson's sister) and O-ke-mah, a head man of the Mexican Kickapoo," she said. "My paternal great-grandparents were Jasper Eskew and Vera Campbell Eskew, and maternal great-grandparents were Elmer Roundtree and Ma-me-nah-kah-ko-quah 'Edith' Wahweah Roundtree. My paternal grandparents are Richard and Janice Eskew Lee, and maternal grandparents were Joe 'Na-chi-the' Roundtree and Naoma Coslow Roundtree."

Based on the recent experiences of Lee and Wichita Tribal Enterprises intern Reuben Johnson, internships are a strong example of ways to gain real-life professional experience outside of the classroom.

"Internships encourage students to come out of their shell and experience things that they wouldn't normally experience," Boettger said. "You meet people and go to places that bring you out of your comfort zone. This is a positive thing and helps you grow as a student and person."