U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson and Kiara Ehle, a Ben Reifel Intern, at St. John’s Church on the Pine Ridge Reservation in June 2023. (Courtesy of the Office of Rep. Dusty Johnson)
An internship offered by U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson is fostering connections between Washington, D.C., and tribes in South Dakota.
The Ben Reifel Internship has existed for several years and is named after the only Native American to represent South Dakota in Congress. Among internships sponsored by South Dakota’s congressional delegation, it’s the only one focused specifically on tribes.
“This is a key way for us to make sure that we’re creating more opportunity for people who care about tribal affairs,” said Johnson, R-South Dakota. “At the same time, we’re creating a new generation of people that understand that federal-tribal intersection.”
Kiara Ehle, a recent Ben Reifel Intern and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, wrote about the experience for a press release from Johnson’s office. While interning in Washington, D.C., she attended meetings with business leaders, tribal officials and representatives of organizations from South Dakota.
“With each meeting I sat in on, I became more driven to want to take a more active role in politics aside from voting,” she wrote. “The relationship Congressman Johnson and his staff have fostered is critical to paving a pathway of advocacy on behalf of his constituents.”
Reifel was born in 1906 on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He grew up to serve in World War II, earn a doctoral degree from Harvard, work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and become the first Lakota person elected to Congress. He died in 1990.
Reifel was a Republican and prominent proponent of the Indian Civil Rights Act who fought to ensure tribes received proper compensation when the government took their land.
“He was incredibly effective,” Johnson said. “And he wasn’t just a representative for the whites or Native Americans.”
Legislation sponsored by Johnson renamed the U.S. Postal Service building in Rosebud, just miles from Reifel’s birthplace, as the Ben Reifel Post Office Building in 2020.
Potential interns may contact Johnson’s D.C. office at (202) 225-2801 for more information. Interns do not have to be enrolled in college or a tribe, but they should have an interest in pursuing a career on a reservation or in tribal relations.
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