Warm Springs to Washington
These are exciting times for 25-year-old Karlen Yallup, of Warm Springs. Last summer, she spent 10 weeks interning in the U.S. Senate for Sen. John McCain, and in November, she returned to Washington, D.C., for a much longer stint as an intern in U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's office.
In both offices, she has had the opportunity to see the inner workings of the U.S. Senate in particularly partisan times.
"Wyden is a good, hardworking man," said Yallup. "He works hard for his constituents of Oregon and has the highest amount of town halls (of) any other senator, showing his commitment to hear what the people are worried for or want to see."
"The month I've been here, I've witnessed his dedication and commitment to making things happen for the better of not just Oregon, but America. It is very interesting and everything works at a rapid pace."
The stint in McCain's office was a "great introduction to Capitol Hill," said Yallup, who was in the office when McCain, who had just returned to Washington after brain surgery, dramatically cast his vote against a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act in the early morning hours of July 28, 2017.
"He wasn't in the chamber when his name was called and showed up moments later, having the country wait just a few minutes for his vote," said Yallup. "I deeply respect the man, especially since this was after his brain cancer, which I was also in the office when he announced it."
"When I first met him, I was in a small group of people and the very first photos he showed us were four large portraits of Native American elders near his desk in his office," said Yallup. "That made me proud. He was the chairman for the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs (from) 2005-2006; he is still a member and has much legislation supporting Indian Country."
McCain's selflessness in putting the American people ahead of his own health was motivational to Yallup. "During all of this, he was a strong man that kept joking and it seemed as though people around him were more saddened than himself," she said.
"Watching how hard he worked and witnessing how (many) people he has truly, deeply inspired, (inspired) me to work harder for the better of not just tribes, but the American people, the veterans, the children, education systems, fire, health care, etc.," she said. "He was a prisoner of war and he somehow used that to shape himself into becoming one of the greatest leaders of not just the country, but the entire world."
For the Hatfield Fellowship, Yallup returned to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1, 2017, for a month-long orientation, before starting work in Wyden's office on Dec. 4, 2017. The fellowship lasts through the end of July.
In the office, Yallup said that her day can include answering constituent letters, helping with hearings, or researching for staffers, among other activities. "My main focuses are energy and natural resources, poverty and education," she said.
"My goal is honestly just to help American people, help Sen. Wyden in the office to help get things done wherever I'm needed," said Yallup, who also plans to "gain experience to understand more accurately where I can position myself to influence future decisions, what I have to do in order to restructure laws and policies, and understand why Indian Country continues to live in poverty and obtain low education rates and how to aid individual tribes."
A 2010 Madras High School graduate, Yallup was one of a roster of 30 congressional fellows for the American Political Science Association for 2017-18. The Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde and Spirit Mountain Community Fund selected Yallup as the 2017-18 Mark Hatfield Fellow, and noted that she was appointed to serve in Sen. Wyden's office.
Last year, Bobby Ahern, formerly of Madras, was selected for the same program and served in the office of U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon).
Last summer, Yallup was one of 10 students selected for the Native American Congressional Internship Program from the Udall Foundation, which is part of the executive branch of the U.S. government.
Yallup, a Wasco member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, earned bachelor's degrees in forest resources and fire ecology from the University of Idaho in the spring of 2016, and was employed as a contract analyst in the tribal finance office in Warm Springs when she was selected for the internships.
In Washington, D.C., she lives close enough to Capitol Hill that she can walk to work.
"My favorite part about being in Washington is all the monuments and architecture, as well as the diverse type of people," she said. "During the days I feel tired, I visit the monuments to remind myself of the country we live in."
"In the long term, this experience will give me a better understanding of how decisions are made in the larger scope of the United States and on a smaller scale, how the senator helps different organizations and people, and in the future, how I can use it for the greater good, and understand where I need to be, career-wise, in order to be influential," she said.