ILA Alumni: Where are they now? EJ John

Kristen Talbert

Indigenous Leadership Academy Program Manager

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 Our guest in this “Where are they now” series is EJ John. He has the unique perspective of working at the American Indian Policy Institute as well as being a graduate of the Indigenous Leadership Academy. During the Indigenous Leadership Academy, the project that EJ created was developing a master plan to help Chichiltah Chapter implement a community development project with the chapter’s land use planning committee. EJ said, “We are addressing the lack of community development because members of our community still lack basic needs.” I’ve added EJ’s bio and some questions and answers. 

 EJ is AIPI's Senior Policy & Research Analyst and is a member of the Navajo Nation from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. He received his J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2016 with a concentration in Indian Law. Before that, EJ received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of New Mexico in 2013. His interest in law and policy came from his time interning in the D.C. office of Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) in 2011 as an undergrad. Before coming to the AIPI, EJ had worked on tribal government reform and development with the Office of Navajo Government Development in Window Rock, AZ.

 As part of ILA, participants are asked to create a project that helps the community. What was your project idea, and how did the tools from ILA help you grow that idea?

I was fortunate because I already had a project that I was working on outside of my work with AIPI. The project was to update my home community’s land use plan which was created in 2017. The land use plan contains information on our community’s demographics and resources that are related to community and economic development. I do this work as a member of a committee, and many of the tools from ILA that helped with organization and goal setting have been very helpful. 

What was your most surprising takeaway from the cohort?

I was impressed by my fellow cohort members. We all had different backgrounds, but it turned out we all did similar work in similar contexts. It was great to talk with others in my cohort about policy work in Indian Country without having to explain where I’m coming from. Our shared experiences and understanding allowed us to go in-depth with our discussions.

How has ILA impacted your life since completing the Academy?

ILA connected me to a network of outstanding individuals who can be great resources for my work moving forward. ILA also helped me with new organizational and goal-setting tools that have helped me continue the appointment for my project. These tools are especially helpful when I am working in groups and coordinating with different partners.

What is your focus as a senior research and policy analyst and why is that important to you?

Right now my focus is to analyze policy issues around digital equity for Tribal communities. The pandemic made it clear that access to the internet and digital services is essential, and people without that access cannot participate in modern life as everyone else. For me, it’s an equity issue. I want to help Tribal communities like my own to gain access to the digital world so that they can have the same opportunities as many other people around the world.

As an Indigenous leader in a higher education institution, how do you give back to your community?

I’m lucky to be close to my home community in the Navajo Nation and I am able to stay connected to a lot of the work that was in progress during the time I worked for my Tribe. My ILA project was something I left undone when I left the Navajo Nation and joined AIPI. But I’m still close enough geographically and work-wise to participate in those projects and offer my skills and knowledge to the effort. I want to see this project completed, so I now volunteer my time to work on the land use plan.