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Law Courses Catalog

Family Law in Indian Country

NOTE: This course description is new for the 2016-2017 academic year. You may read the prior course description immediately below this new one.

This course will examine Indian child welfare matters, including the analysis of federal policies and the impact on Indian families and community; the Indian Child Welfare Act and tribal, state, and federal law. In addition, the course will provide an overview of issues concerning Native American youth and families from an Indian community perspective. Special emphasis will be given to resolving family disputes using case law, family conferencing and traditional dispute resolution models.

The course takes a multi-disciplinary look at evolving family systems (boarding schools to urban populations), social controls (culture and ceremony), institutional structures (tribal, councils), state and federal courts and laws, violence data and racism. Students will discuss strategies and innovations to address contemporary issues in the application of Federal Indian law.

Students will review the historical and cultural aspects of ICWA as well as the practical application. Students will examine the recent changes to the Major Crimes Act in relation to crimes that are a violation against women and children in Indian Country. Students will research the just released first comprehensive regulations for the substantive legal requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA. The regulations provide the first legally binding federal guidance on how to implement ICWA. The regulations will go into effect 180 days from the date of their release June 8, 2016, providing time for state agencies, private agencies, and state courts to prepare for their implementation.

Guest speakers from leaders supporting Indian Country (e.g., NICWA, NAYA, NAPOLS, Red Lodge) will provide perspective on working in Indian Country.


20% PARTICIPATION IN CLASS: Thoughtful commentary drives the class and benefits your fellow students. The final grade for participation is intended to incorporate attendance, class preparation, and thoughtful commentary and participation in class discussions. With such a condensed class, attendance is imperative and our expectation is that you will not miss any classes. In the event that you need to miss a class, please email with maximum advanced notice. In the absence of emergent and unavoidable circumstances, missing more than one class will adversely impact this portion of your final grade. Students can boost participation grades by keeping current on Indian law issues/events that occur during the course of the class and raising them during the opening of class.  Exceptional participation can elevate a borderline grade.

50% FINAL PAPER: A 12-15 page paper relating to Family Law in Indian Country on the topic of your choice (proposal must be approved). Your proposal (think an abstract for a journal article) is due for our review February 1. We are happy to help you refine your topic. Your paper should address a current issue that a tribe or group or community faces and relate the issue(s) to those covered in class. Theses need not be limited to a particular tribe, nor to a particular aspect of the class. Please note, all citations should follow the Blue Book method (for law review). Paper will be evaluated for structure/guidance, writing craft (mechanics, clarity, blue book citations), substance (research challenge, breadth of resources, proper weight of information presented or not presented, adequate support for thesis, and accuracy and clarity).

30% CLASS PRESENTATION: A 15-20 minute presentation on your paper topic to the class. You will be graded on preparedness, quality/accuracy, and clarity of presentation. Class presentations are scheduled for April 10th and 12th.

The below course description applied prior to the 2016-2017 academic year.

This course explores the federal, state and tribal laws that impact Native children and families - particularly within the systems of education, justice and protection/social services. This dynamic legal framework is essential for both students of family law and Indian law.

Students will review the historic and cultural context of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) then analyze the statutory and decisional law surrounding and supporting its application today (including, for example, tribal children?s codes and the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act). The course will also address Indian education, healthcare and domestic violence.

Students will hear from practitioners (from NICWA, NAYA and various tribal departments), visit tribal court and conduct independent research to understand the implication of family law in Indian Country and to explore strategies to improve outcomes.