2019 Udall Foundation Congressional Internship Award Recipient: Kacey Chopito

A member of the Zuni tribe from the Pueblo of Zuni in New Mexico, Kacey Chopito, ’21, is no stranger to the environmental battles faced by Native Americans and tribal lands. The Zunis have a history of successfully going up against the federal government in these types of cases. Despite the tribe’s experience, they’ve yet to have a member receive a congressional internship from the Udall Foundation – until now.

Chopito was selected as a 2019 Native American Congressional Intern. He will work with the Indian Resources Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, part of the Department of Justice, this summer in Washington, DC. Chopito was one of 12 students nationwide to be selected, along with fellow MSU Law student, Austin Moore, ’20.

Part of the Udall Foundation’s mission is “to provide programs to promote leadership, education, collaboration, and conflict resolution in the areas of environment, public lands, and natural resources in order to strengthen Native nations, assist federal agencies and others to resolve environmental conflicts, and to encourage the continued use and appreciation of our nation’s rich resources.”

Before MSU Law, Chopito studied history and political science at Syracuse University, where he served as president of Indigenous Students. He’s worked at various levels of the government on Indigenous issues, but this internship will be his first experience at the federal level.  

“This is kind of like jumping straight into the deep end for these issues. I think what I’m most excited about is that, for so long, I’ve always been on the tribal government side. I had an internship and I did some work at the state level,” he said. “I haven’t worked with these environmental issues at the federal level, and that’s one of the big reasons that led me to apply. That’s also one of the biggest things that I’m excited for – getting that experience at the federal level.”

He’s been a part of efforts to protect and rehabilitate water systems for Native American tribes, and he sees this experience with the Environment and Natural Resources Division as an opportunity to increase his involvement with issues that affect tribes. 

Chopito is working toward completing the Indigenous Law Certificate Program at MSU Law, and he is the vice president of MSU Law’s Native American Law Students Association. He aspires to a career in the federal government, working on large scale projects related to water rights, and hopes to one day return to the Pueblo of Zuni to work with his tribe.