HUMANS OF THE U: JESSAKA NAKAI

“My mother and a close neighbor were involved in politics in Montezuma Creek in San Juan County before we moved to Salt Lake City when I was 10. I was always watching the news so I knew what was going on in Utah, the country and the world. Those two things are what piqued my interest in political science — not the politics side, but the research that goes into policy-making and legislation.

My older sister graduated from the U in 1994 with a degree in political science. I knew from her experience and learning about the U that its political science department was one of the best in the nation. I was able to do internships while a student with the Indian Health Service and the Navajo Nation’s Washington office, where I worked on Capitol Hill advocating for Indian Country.

It took me 10 years to finish because I took time to work and had some health issues. My parents and my siblings all encouraged me to strive to complete my degree. I also was encouraged by a university advisor, who told me I could it.

After graduating, I want to help build a better bridge and provide a voice for my home community. We are one of the original groups of Utah Navajos and, a lot of times when it comes to issues we face in our community, our voices get drowned out by groups off the reservation. I want to bring our voices and history to the forefront to help our community grow and also work with indigenous youth in San Juan County. I am planning on working for a year or two and then want to pursue a master’s degree in legal studies, focused on indigenous people’s law, at the University of Oklahoma, which will help me with these goals.”

 — Jessaka Nakai, Class of 2018, bachelor’s degree in political science. Jessaka is half Navajo (Aneth Extension) and half Cherokee (Oklahoma)

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.