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2008 Young Native Writers Essay Contest A Resounding Success!

This year marked the third annual Young Native Writers Essay Contest program, and a most successful week in Washington, D.C. for our five student winners and their teachers.

The 2008 Young Native Writers Essay Contest winning essayists and their teachers are:

Simone Greenleaf (Minnesota Chippewa)
Teacher: Elaine Fleming
(Minnesota Chippewa)

Alyssa London (Tlingit)
Teacher: Mary Wilber
(Okanagan from Osoyoos Indian Band)

Stormy Sagmoen (Dena'ina Athabascan)
Teacher: Mike Baum

Christina Tsosie (Navajo)
Teacher: Donald Hunt

Jalea Walker (Yurok, Smith River Tolowa, Hupa, Tutuni)
Teacher: Vicki Kurtz


The week in Washington, D.C. included a series of historical and cultural seminars led by the following individuals:

  • Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne) from Holland & Knight's Washington, D.C. office

  • Dr. Claudia Haake, Library of Congress Kluge Fellow with a discussion on the Delaware Indians' removal.

  • Poet Shaunna McCovey (Yurok) who read from her book, Smokehouse Boys.

  • Author Tim Tingle (Chotaw) who read from his book, The Choctaw Way and held a writing seminar.

  • Holocaust survivor Alice Masters who shared her story about being a Kindertransport child.


The students and teachers toured the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian with a cultural interpreter.


The group also visited the Museum's Cultural Resource Center in Suitland, Maryland, home of one of the premier facilities in the conservation field for work with Native American ethnographic and archaeological materials.

An informal reception for the winners and their teachers took place at Capitol Hill. Many thanks to U.S. Representative James Oberstar's office for hosting the reception, and to all of the staffers from various Representatives' offices who delivered greetings. Some Members brought their constituents back to their offices for photos and a meeting.


Gratitude to Steve McHugh (Holland & Knight's Washington, D.C. office) who filled-in for Congressman Oberstar while he voted on the floor.


On Thursday, June 26th, a public Honor Ceremony was held at the Potomac Atrium within the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The ceremony was opened by Museum Director Kevin Gover. Gerry Sikorsky followed with remarks about Holland & Knight's pride in the winners and teachers.


Hundreds of onlookers from the main floor and each tier of the Museum watched and listened as the students' works were celebrated in words and music. The ceremony was followed by a reception at which Gerry Sikorsky announced the top scholarship recipient, Alyssa London of Bothell, Washington.


Kathleen Nilles (Holland & Knight Washington, D.C. office) opened her home on the Piscataway River on Thursday evening and arranged for a kayak trip for the students and teachers. The kayakers were led by professional guides who pointed out Indian lands along the way. Afterwards, Kathleen served a delicious dinner and made everyone feel at home.


During the week, the students and teachers were delighted by a trip to the Kennedy Center for an evening of laughter at a performance of Shear Madness. During the week together, they found time to visit other Smithsonian museums and also viewed several of the monuments.


Our last lunch together was held at the Hard Rock Cafe. The parting comments heard as we met this final time told us that this program must continue.  "I had the most wonderful week of my life."  "Thank you for inviting us into the Holland & Knight family." "I learned so much and feel so better prepared for the future."


We offer nations of gratitude …

The Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation says Ahéhee' (thank you in Navajo language) to the National Museum of the American Indian for is partnership in the Young Native Writers Essay Contest. The museum is the focal point of the program, with its vast collection of Native American artifacts and extensive library, resources most essential to our shared goals for students and teachers. Additionally, the museum donated its venue for writing symposiums and the Honor Ceremony. Many of the museum's staff members volunteered in the Young Native Writers program, particularly Renee Gokey, the museum's Student Services Coordinator.

Many thanks to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for a most generous grant that enabled our group to stay at the Residence Inn Hotel, a short three-block walk to the National Museum of the American Indian.

Miigwech (thank you in Ojibwe language) to the Native American authors and scholars who volunteered their time to reach out to our group. The Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation provided your books to each student and teacher that created a treasured collection.

Thanks to members of the Indian Law Practice Group in Washington, DC for myriad contributions of time and friendship: Shenan Atcitty, Senator Campbell, Dave Devendorf, Kim Dunlop, Tim Evans, Ashley Fingarson, David Lautenberger, Steve McHugh, Tim Evans, Telly Meier, Kathleen Nilles, Gerry Sikorski, Philip Baker Shenk, and Nancy Tierney – where would we be without you?

Gunalchéesh (thank you in Tlingit language) to Holland & Knight donors who contribute to the Young Native Writers Essay Contest program within the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation. Without your donations, we simply cannot continue this wonderful program.

More photos from the 2008 Young Native Writers Essay Contest winners trip to Washington, D.C.