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Indian Law Program


The law school’s continued commitment to Indian law has led to the creation of several programs, including the intensive Indian Law Summer Program, the Indian Law Practicum, and the Tribal Clerkship Pro Bono Honors Program. With one of the most extensive Indian law curricula in the country, we offer a wide array of courses and the potential for a careful focus on Indian law.

The courses below are offered on a rotating basis, with a few offered each school year. Check with the Registrar for a current list.  In addition, several advanced Indian law courses are taught each summer by leading scholars from across the country.

Advanced Federal Indian Law

In-depth study of current issues in Indian law, which may include tribal sovereignty, tribal court jurisdiction, reservation economic development and environmental regulation, cultural resources protection, and tribal rights in natural resources and endangered species. This class explores the way history, legislation, and litigation have influenced the development of Indian law and policy.

Alaska Natives & the Law

This two-credit two-week intensive course is designed to strengthen student understanding of Alaska Native law and the cultural and historical backdrop of its application in rural Alaska.  With 229 tribal governments, a multitude of Regional and Village Corporations formed pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and a myriad of Native non-profit corporations, Alaska Natives are a powerful economic, political, and legal force.  Alaska Native values and practices regarding the traditional subsistence way of life help inform the culture of all Alaskans and are at the center of cutting edge litigation and international treaties surrounding traditional harvest of wildlife.

Contemporary Issues in Indian Law

Current issues, with a focus on recent as well as future cases, relating to jurisdictional conflicts in Indian country, the implementation of the trust relationship and the implementation of federal legislation such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act, implementation of treaty rights, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Criminal Law in Indian Country

This course Criminal Law in Indian Country is designed to reflect upon crime and
punishment in Indian Country, and the embedded story within the shared
“criminal” history of tribal nations.  We will name and explore impacts on Tribal sovereignty and individual rights of Native American Indians that have occurred over time through U.S. policy, statute and case law including Treaties, Crow Dog and the Major Crimes Act, Public Law 280, the Indian Civil Rights Act, Oliphant and Duro, and recent Congressional efforts to address the perception of lawlessness on reservations. With historical impacts in mind, we examine contemporary issues such as Native American overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, sentencing disparity, and disturbing statistics regarding Natives as victims of crime. Students will also have an opportunity to review the unique aspects of criminal jurisdiction in the Northwest as part of the general understanding of criminal law and justice in Indian Country.

Family Law in Indian Country

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.

Gaming and Economic Development in Indian Country

An examination of issues regarding economic activity in Indian country, including gaming, asset-extractive activities such as logging and mining, job creation through manufacturing and attraction of business investment to reservations, and the creation of functioning reservation economies by tribal governments. The history of tribal entrepreneurial activities and a focus on the legal, sovereign, judicial, regulatory, and funding challenges that tribal governments face in bringing beneficial economic growth to Indian country. Course evaluation will be by a two-hour exam or through a paper at the student’s option. Prerequisite: Completion of or current enrollment in Federal Indian Law.

Indian gaming concerns the federal, tribal and state law regarding the development of gaming and related enterprises in Indian country. This course will survey the historical background behind Indian gaming and further examine the modern legal system governing the operation and regulation of Indian gaming activities.

General topics to be covered include the jurisdictional precepts to gaming in Indian country, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, tribal-state compacts, and regulatory oversight schemes of Indian gaming activities. Emerging issues also will be reviewed, such as taking land into trust for gaming purposes and diversification of tribal gaming. In addition, coursework will include review of financing documents, contracts involved in the operation gaming enterprise, and tribal legal and judicial systems that support tribes’ economic endeavors.

Federal Indian Law

The development of federal Indian law from the late 19th century to the present. Emphasis given to unique principles of law concerning tribal sovereignty, the federal trust relationship, hunting, fishing, and water rights, and the interplay between tribal, state, and federal criminal and civil jurisdiction. Special attention to federal statutes that pertain specifically to Native Americans. These statutes and the above principles of law are discussed in the context of self-determination.

International Law & American Indians 

Europeans used international law in North America from the beginning of their explorations and settlements on this continent. They used the Doctrine of Discovery to claim for themselves many of the sovereign, diplomatic, commercial and human rights of native peoples. 

The Doctrine still applies to American Indians and Indian Nations today. In addition, international law is starting to be applied to American Indians, including the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that was adopted by the UN General
Assembly on September 13, 2007. Some American Indians and tribal governments are also beginning to look to the Organization of American States as an alternate venue to pursue claims against the United States. We will address these issues and more in this class.

NALSA Moot Court

During the fall, students research a problem in a specific area of Indian law. Students prepare appellate briefs and participate in oral arguments based on the problem. Students from the fall class are selected to represent the school in the national NALSA moot court competition held in the spring.

Native American Indian Civil Rights

This course analyzes the nature, scope and limitations of civil rights protections in Indian Country for Native American Indians and non-Natives. As a dual-citizen, the Native American Indian possesses a distinct political relationship with tribal government(s) and the United States government as separate sovereigns. Thus, the individual Indian occupies a unique position in civil rights law. The course looks to the power and limitations of the United States to adequately protect the civil rights of Natives under its own constitution, as well as the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA) as a vehicle to protect the rights of individual Indians vis-a-vis their tribe or other tribal governments.

Students will examine the emergence of civil rights protections for individual Indians in Indian law and constitutional law, and study their enforcement in federal, state and tribal courts. We will identify the constitutional and statutory protections afforded to Indians and non-Indians and evaluate their impact and efficacy for Indians in state/federal and tribal forums and non-Indians in tribal courts. Materials will address foundational principles of equal protection, due process, religious freedom, and protection from harm at the hands of the government for (non) Indians on and off the reservation.

The class also explores the tribal role and response to ICRA, including the development of tribal infrastructures, common law and remedies to protect its citizens. Throughout the course, students will be challenged to analyze the so-called tension between individual rights and tribal collective rights and generate a discussion on tribal self-determination, good governance, and human rights.

Native Natural Resources Law

Survey of natural resources law, including water, timber, mining, fish, and wildlife. Resource protection and development in the context of treaty rights and conflicting sovereignty. Special attention is given to the regulatory powers of the federal government and tribal governments, as well as to the competing interests of federal, state, and tribal entities. Students gain an enhanced understanding of the legal positions of tribes intent on asserting and preserving treaty obligations.