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Andrew Lee ’94 Discusses State of American Indian Tribes


Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Andrew Lee ’94 discussed the sovereignty of American Indian Nations, and why some have found success while others struggle on Sept. 10.

Lee’s academic journey at Hamilton started in earnest when he met Prof. Cheng Li while taking International Relations his sophomore year. “I couldn’t understand a word Prof. Cheng Li said,” recalled Lee, “but my parents told me, ‘You’ve got to learn how to adjust’.” Cheng Li had two pieces of advice for Lee: transform yourself as a student, and think about public service. He took Lee under his wing and provided mentorship and motivation.

Hamilton can transform a student and open your eyes. Hamilton is the type of place that can change your life so much for the better.

“Prof. Li would call at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings to ask me if I was studying,” Lee reminisced. At first the early wake- up seemed harsh, but soon enough Lee started getting up early by himself, and his work ethic stuck. “Hamilton can transform a student and open your eyes. Hamilton is the type of place that can change your life so much for the better,” said Lee.

After Hamilton, Prof. Cheng Li helped Lee find a fellowship at Harvard, which led Lee to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government where he earned his masters in public policy. Since then, Lee has served in a plethora of executive positions in fields from health care and philanthropy to American Indian affairs and economic development.

Lee talked with Hamilton students on Sept. 10 about American Indians today. “American Indians are alive,” Lee began. He identified some of the barriers facing American Indian Tribes as they develop their sovereignty and improve economic outcomes on reservations.

“Indian tribes are nations and have powers roughly akin to sovereign states,” said Lee. He examined how tribes that approach economic development through sovereign nation building find it easier to build independent institutions and organize tribal resources.

Lee ended his lecture with three pieces of advice for future Hamilton leaders:

  • Get comfortable with public speaking
  • Start serving on boards as soon as you can
  • Leaders have a responsibility to look back seven generations, and think about how your decisions will affect people seven generations from now
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