ORONO – A background in teaching, volunteering, theater and American Indian art has placed University of Maine student David Slagger, a member of the Micmac Indian Nation, in the right place at the right time for a prestigious internship at the Smithsonian Institute’s new National Museum of the American Indian.
Slagger, a 43-year-old nontraditional student now in his sophomore year in the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development, recently was selected from a field of 40 applicants nationally for a fall internship in the museum’s public programs department. The department plans, coordinates and presents native theater programs, among other things, at the museum on the mall in Washington.
In addition to receiving a $1,500 stipend, the National Museum of the American Indian will provide travel expenses and housing on Capitol Hill.
The independent study internship runs from Sept. 26 to Dec. 2, although Slagger started his work in Washington on Sept. 5.
To qualify for the selection process, Slagger submitted an essay and letters of recommendation, and he had to maintain a 3.0 grade point average.
He is the first UMaine student to work at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Slagger grew up in Aroostook County and now lives in Dedham. He said he is consumed by excitement and awe over his selection.
“This is one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve made in getting this internship,” Slagger said. “I’m very honored to represent the University of Maine and the Wabanaki Center and my tribe, the Aroostook Micmac Nation.”
Slagger has been involved with the Wabanaki Center at UMaine and the American Indians at the University of Maine club. He has displayed some of his American Indian art and crafts at the Hudson Museum’s annual art and basket sale. His artwork includes paintings of nature scenes on large fungi he finds in the forest, weaving sweet grass baskets, using bird feathers and wood to craft dreamcatchers, and making ceremonial talking sticks.
His theater studies at UMaine include working and participating with a production last fall of a play by American Indian playwright William Yellowrobe, taking a class in American Indian theater with Sherman Alexis, another Native American playwright who spoke and taught at UMaine last year, and working with UMaine’s intertribal theater.
Slagger is a veteran of the U.S. Marines and has worked as a volunteer with American Indian veterans in Maine for three years, helping them get medals earned but not received during military service.
He decided to apply for the Smithsonian internship after attending the grand opening last September of the National Museum of the American Indian.
“I was just fascinated with the museum and seeing 20,000 native people on the mall was just an unbelievable sight,” he said.
Slagger also has worked as a volunteer in area schools, teaching children about American Indian culture. He plans to continue teaching when he graduates from UMaine. He looks forward to working with non-native teachers who plan to add more native studies to public school curricula, as required under a new state law, LD 291.
“What I’m trying to do is set an example for my community and show that Native Americans can step out of the community and succeed in a place like Orono,” he said. “The road to success will take us as far as we want to go. There’s so much we can do and it’s up to us to get there. That’s how I got my internship.”