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Public Interest Law Project

Chris Dawson

October 10, 2011

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Native American Program Oregon Legal Services (NAPOLS)

Native American Program Oregon Legal Services (NAPOLS) – Portland, OR

I worked at the Native American Program Oregon Legal Services (NAPOLS), a part of Legal Aid Services of Oregon this past summer. NAPOLS is a nonprofit law office nationally recognized for specializing in the protection of Indian rights. Their office is split between two units; one works on Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) cases, while the other works with tribes and tribal organizations. I worked with the tribal unit. Primarily I researched and drafted memoranda on a wide variety of subjects. These included tribal constitutional reform, federal 638 contracts, tax payments on tribal income, requirements of per diem payments under federal contracts, and the federal recognition process for a terminated tribe.

That last memo lead to an exciting field trip to Coos Bay. I travelled with two of the attorneys to meet with a non-profit Indian tribal group who has been seeking tribal recognition for the last fifteen years. The meeting took place on a small private salmon and steelhead hatchery owned and operated by one of the tribe seeking recognition. The hatchery was on land owned by the operator’s grandfather. At the meeting we discussed their past and current strategies for achieving recognition and discussed how NAPOLS might be able to help them.

The tribal members are dedicated to the goal of recognition as the means by which their tribe can emerge as a whole political entity after the Rogue River War of 1856 and the Termination Act of 1954 devastated tribal polities of SW and coastal Oregon. The group’s historical evidence showing how they’ve maintained themselves as a coherent entity deserving of recognition is quite compelling. Their photo collection dates back to the 1860’s and reveals the changing lifestyles of both Indians and other Oregonians living in rural SW Oregon. The hatchery operator showed me the photos and his voice betrayed his pride and affection for his people. He knew who everyone in the photos was, even the hundred year old photos, he knew where the photos were taken, and how those places had changed over the years. He left me with no doubts about his emotional connection to the land and his dedication to the goal of federal recognition for his tribe.

NAPOLS serves an important role in Oregon and the Indian community in this state. Many tribes and various organizations serving individual Indians do not have the funds to hire legal services when needed. NAPOLS serves a vital role by providing legal services to these struggling groups and tribes.

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