ILP serving on the NABA-AZ Board

The Native American Bar Association of Arizona (NABA-AZ) recently announced its 2021-2022 board of directors. Congratulations to this year’s ILP leadership: ILP Executive Director Kate Rosier, president; Meredith Gaylord (’19), president-elect; Bartley Harris (’08), treasurer; and Professor Pilar Thomas, secretary. Other ASU ILP board members include Jason Croxton (’10), ILP Faculty Director Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, Simon Goldenberg (’17), Verrin Kewenvoyouma (’04) and Kevin Pooley (’15). 

We appreciate ILP representation on the board!

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Danielle Williams
Program Coordinator Sr, Indian Legal Program, ASU Law

Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance Programs Welcome Expert Faculty Associates

Two new faculty associates bring hands-on expertise to the Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance Master of Legal Studies (MLS) Programs, part of the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Jay Spaan, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, teaches Tribal Self-Governance I, and Michael Hoenig teaches Indian Gaming II.

Jay Spaan on Tribal Self-Governance
“Tribal self-governance is always evolving and its implementation is unique for each Tribal Nation,” said Spaan. “We will discuss and learn about the authorizing legislation and regulations, as well as caselaw that provide the framework for self-governance authority, and we will focus on how tribal nations have implemented the authority to best serve their citizens and communities. We also learn about the creative thinking and perseverance of tribal leaders that made self-governance a reality and how that continues to shape the future of self-governance.”

Spaan offered important advice for ASU Law students: “Take initiative, push boundaries and think beyond the confines of the current system. Tribal self-governance was an initiative of tribal leaders who were frustrated with the federal-tribal relationship and wanted to see real improvements in the lives of their citizens and communities. Don’t be scared to think beyond the boundaries of existing legislative frameworks. Anything is possible.”

Spaan is the executive director of the Self-Governance Communication & Education Tribal Consortium. He has more than a decade of experience in program evaluation, primarily as a senior analyst in the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Natural Resource and Environment team. Spaan actively sought opportunities to increase American Indian and Alaska Native representation within GAO and brought in numerous speakers to educate its employees on federal trust responsibility, tribal sovereignty and building effective working relationships with Tribal Nations. Spaan earned a master’s of jurisprudence in Indian Law from the University of Tulsa and a master’s of public affairs from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Michael Hoenig on Indian Gaming
“Indian gaming has had a profoundly positive impact across Indian country,” said Hoenig. “It has created needed jobs and provided funding for vital programs and services. It is also one of the most heavily regulated activities, with tribes, states, and various federal agencies all playing a part. It needs people who understand not only how casino operations work, but also all those legal and regulatory requirements. I decided to teach this course so I could share my knowledge and hopefully ensure that there will continue to be people to fill those important roles.”

The Indian Gaming II course will provide an in-depth understanding of the legal and regulatory requirements of Indian gaming pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) regulations and other laws that touch on Indian gaming. “As you study Indian gaming,” Hoenig advised students, “keep in mind IGRA’s purpose that tribes must be the primary beneficiaries of their gaming.”

Hoenig is the general counsel at the NIGC, an independent federal regulatory agency. He provides legal oversight, guidance and assistance to the commission in carrying out its responsibilities under the IGRA. He joined the NIGC as a staff attorney in 2006, became associate general counsel in 2014 and general counsel in 2015. Prior to joining the NIGC, Hoenig served as counsel to Chickasaw Nation Ambassador Charles Blackwell and as counsel to Native Affairs Development Group. Hoenig received his law degree from the Creighton University School of Law and a master of laws in American Indian and Indigenous Law from the University of Tulsa, where he graduated with highest honors.

We are thrilled to welcome Professors Spaan and Hoenig to ASU Law.

“The success of the Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs could not be possible without the high-quality learning opportunities offered to its students,” said Derrick Beetso (’10), recently named director of the Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs. “Professor Spaan and Professor Hoenig bring a wealth of practical experience and subject matter expertise to the programs, and we are delighted that our students are now able to gain insights and lessons from both. We are confident these teachings will serve our students well in their future careers.”

McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court Decision: Treaties Upheld

On July 9, 2020, the Supreme Court issued its decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma and affirmed that the Muscogee Creek Nation’s reservation was never disestablished. The majority opinion strongly affirmed what Native people have known: Treaty rights are the Supreme Law of the land and do not fade with time. This historic decision is a strong vindication of the Muscogee Creek Nation’s treaty and a promising decision for all treaties. 

In their 2L year, Dylan West (Choctaw) and Blair Tarman (Chickasaw) assisted Professor Stacy Leeds (Cherokee) on the Cherokee Nation’s amicus brief.  Read the amicus brief on behalf of Cherokee here. Professor Leeds was the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community distinguished visiting Indian Law professor at ASU Law during Fall 2019 semester and taught Federal Indian law. 

From this monumental and victorious decision, people of the ILP quickly took action and poured their energy into their work.

In his interview with the Voice of America (VOA) News, Professor Robert Miller (Eastern Shawnee) stated, “The Court is upholding this 1832 treaty that the Creek Nation signed with the United States, and is holding the United States to those promises.” Watch full video here. Miller also presented, “McGirt v. Oklahoma: Understanding the Decision and its Implications for Indian Country” for the Oregon Historical Society. Watch Miller’s presentation  here.

Professor Larry Roberts (Oneida) said, “today’s decision is a significant win for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and for Tribal Nations across the country. With the Muscogee (Creek) Nation facing opposition from the Trump Administration, this Court made clear that treaties mean something – that they are the supreme law of the land,” in his article for ASU’s American Indian Policy Institute blog. Read blog more here.

“This opinion was not given without opposition, nor does it bar Congress from breaking the treaties in the future,” said rising 2L Taylor Norman (Muscogee Creek). “What it does mean, however, is that rather than kneel to lazy reasoning or racist objection, the Supreme Court of the United States did not break any treaties today.” Read Norman’s full piece here

Joe Keene (’12) (Osage) and Candace French (’17) (Wichita and Affiliated Tribes) recently published an article for Sacks Tierney P.A. summarizing the McGirt case. Read the article here.

The McGirt decision sparked many conversations across Indian Country and to help bring further awareness and understanding, the Indian Legal Program hosted a case overview. “The most significant Indian Law case of the century: McGirt v. Oklahoma” webinar was held on Thursday, July 23.

  • Professor Larry Roberts (Oneida) – Moderator, Executive Director of the Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance Program and Professor of Practice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law 
  • Stacy Leeds (Cherokee) – Vice Chancellor for Economic Development, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas 
  • Professor Robert Miller (Eastern Shawnee) – Faculty Director, Rosette LLP American Indian Economic Development Program and Pedrick Distinguished Research Scholar at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law 
  • Jonodev Chaudhuri (Muscogee Creek Nation) – Ambassador, Muscogee Creek Nation, Partner, Quarles & Brady 
  • Derrick Beetso (’10) (Navajo) – General Counsel, National Congress of American Indian

In November, 1L Ashleigh Fixico (Muscogee Creek Nation) presented on a panel “We Hold the Government to Its Word: A Conversation about McGirt v. Oklahoma.” 

Since the McGirt decision, ILP’s Federal Indian law experts Professor Leeds and Professor Miller have been called for consultation. 

Three weeks after the McGirt decision, Leeds was appointed a judge for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation—the tribe whose boundaries were affirmed in the decision—and continues to hear cases there throughout the year. She also published two articles about the McGirt decision, one dealing with Supreme Court trends and one dealing with Indian taxation.

Professor Miller who not only published his articles, also presented multiple times. Review the full list of his participation here.

This opinion was released during great strife due to the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing racial injustice, but it has brought renewed hope that in this modern era of self-determination for Indian Country the courts will continue to vindicate the rights our ancestors thoughtfully secured for us.  

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Torey Dolan (’19)
Native Vote Fellow, Indian Legal Clinic, ASU Law

Danielle Williams
Program Coordinator Sr, Indian Legal Program, ASU Law

Professor Miller and the McGirt case

It’s almost been a year since the Supreme Court issued its decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma on July 9, 2020 and affirmed that the Muscogee Creek Nation’s reservation was never disestablished. The majority opinion strongly affirmed what Native people have known: Treaty rights are the Supreme Law of the land and do not fade with time. This historic decision created dialogue and research for Indian Country, especially for Federal Indian Law experts like Professor Robert J. Miller. It’s been “all McGirt, all the time,” he says.

2020

On July 12, 2020 Professor Miller was quoted in the Arizona Republic article on the McGirt case. Read article here.

On July 14, Professor Miller along with Professor Larry Roberts, presented on McGirt case to the ILP students.

On July 23, the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU hosted, “The Most Significant Indian law Case of the Century: McGirt v. Oklahoma,” webinar that offered an in-depth case overview, ” which included presenters: Professor Miller, Professor Stacy Leeds, Derrick Beetso (’10), Ambassador, Muscogee Creek Nation Ambassador Jonodev Chaudhuri and moderated by Professor Roberts. View the recording here.

On July 30, Professor Miller gave a two-hour Indian law training for the U.S. DOE Bonneville Power Administration and discussed McGirt case at length.

In July,  Professor Miller stated, “The Court is upholding this 1832 treaty that the Creek Nation signed with the United States, and is holding the United States to those promises” during his interview with the Voice of America (VOA) News. Watch full video here.

Professor Miller also presented, “McGirt v. Oklahoma: Understanding the Decision and its Implications for Indian Country” for the Oregon Historical Society. Watch Miller’s presentation here.

On August 4, Professor Miller co-presented a McGirt webinar for the American Indian Community House in New York City.

On August 31, Professor Miller presented on his upcoming paper “The Indian Law Bombshell: McGirt v. Oklahoma” to law school faculty. Co-author Native Vote Fellow Torey Dolan (’19) joined the discussion. Miller and Dolan published their law review draft article, “The Indian Law Bombshell: McGirt v. Oklahoma” in the SSRN. Read the draft article here.

Professor Miller drafted an 800-word blurb on the McGirt decision for the American Association of Law Schools’ (AALS) Indigenous Nations section newsletter.

On September 15, Professor Miller was a guest on the daily radio program Native America Calling to speak about the McGirt case. Listen here.

On September 17, Professor Miller was a panelist on a 90-minute Zoom conference for the Northeast Corporate Counsel Organization Diversity & Equity Committee and he spoke about the McGirt decision and its impact on corporate clients in Oklahoma. 

On October 26, Professor Miller spoke on a panel session about McGirt for Boston College Law School.

On November 4, Professor Miller gave a keynote speech on McGirt for the “American Society for Ethnohistory Annual Conference” at University of North Carolina. 

On November 13, Professor Miller participated in the Oregon State Bar CLE panel and discussed the McGirt case.

On November 19, Professor Miller presented a one-hour speech for the American Philosophical Society on the McGirt case. Watch the recording here.

On December 11, Professor Miller gave a presentation on his current research on the landmark Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma for ASU’s Indigenous Research Roundtable (IRR).

2021

On Febuary 26, 2021, Professor Miller and Dean Elizabeth Kronk-Warner gave a luncheon talk on McGirt at the George Washington School of Law.

Professor Miller and Professor Robbie Ethridge from University of Mississippi signed a contract to write a book on McGirt for the University of Oklahoma Press.

In April, Professor Miller and Torey Dolan (’19) published their law review draft article, “The Indian Law Bombshell: McGirt v. Oklahoma” in the SSRN. Read the draft article here.

Professor Miller published two short essays for the University of Pennsylvania School of Law’s Regulatory Review journal on the McGirt case and private sector economic development on reservations. 

Professor Miller published the 5,500 word cover article “McGirt v. Oklahoma: The Indian Law Bombshell.” in the April edition of the Federal Lawyer magazine for the Federal Bar Association.

Professor Miller and Torey Dolan (’19) accepted an offer to publish their article “The Indian Law Bombshell: McGirt v. Oklahoma” in 101 Boston University Law Review (2021).

Impacting the next gen

This past semester ILP Executive Director and Assistant Dean of Institutional Progress Kate Rosier and Assistant Dean Ray English of ASU Law’s Office of Career and Employment Service joined forces to co-teach an undergraduate course LAW 394: Law School Foundations. The course was created to provide students with the opportunity to explore and develop the skills necessary to apply to law school and succeed in law school. This diverse roster took part in an intensive LSAT preparation course, and students learned about the law school application process and application strategies. They were also given the opportunity to network with law school administrators, law students, lawyers and judges. 

“I feel like the course provided students with a great foundation upon which to develop their critical thinking skills and to pursue admission into law school,” said English. “My favorite memories surround oral arguments. Students did amazingly well, considering many had never made an oral argument before.”

Over the course of the semester, the students were exposed to legal constructions of the courts in the United States and Arizona, including the function of courts and judges. Students participated in legal analysis exercises, draft legal memorandums and made oral arguments.

“It was a rewarding experience to work with talented and motivated students in the class,” said Rosier. “It was fun to demystify the law school admissions process and direct them with helpful tips.”

The course was initially designed to be in-person but due to a global pandemic, Rosier and English quickly took action and reworked the course to meet the needs of the students. By the end of the semester, they realized the course exceeded their expectations. “Kate and I make a great team! I am looking forward to working with her to improve the course.”

“I think the biggest accomplishment is that all of the students attended every session, even though I made everyone turn on their cameras,” he said. By the end of the semester, two students secured summer internships with Honorable David B. Gass of the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One.

This course was based on the course previously taught by Jeremiah Chin (’15) and Dr. Bryan Brayboy. We appreciate their great work and forward thinking.    

Progress, Power, Purpose: Stacy Leeds

Women's History Month

In celebrating “Women’s History Month,” we turned to some of the women of the ILP to shed light on Native women legal professionals and advocates in this Progress, Power, Purpose series. Newest to the ILP Family, Indian law scholar Stacy Leeds brings her extraordinary experiences and ideas to shape the future: first Indigenous woman to lead a law school, Dean Emeritus of the University of Arkansas School of Law, first woman to serve as a Justice on the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. She is currently a Muscogee (Creek) Nation district court judge and an appellate court judge for Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. Having paved the way for Native women in different areas, why not consult with this fierce Oklahoma Cherokee woman? Amid a global crisis, this visionary created her blog—IndigenousWell—as a platform of much-needed inclusion and to propel Indigenous women professionals and the balance work of health and wellness.

Q: What does your current position entail?
A: Teaching, writing, helping to advance the mission of the Law School and the ILP

Q: Were you always interested in this kind of work?
A: Indian law has always been an interest, but I never would have predicted the many directions my work would take

Q: What advice do you have for Native American women who want to work in this area?
A: Always be respectful and supportive of others. Never underestimate the value in your reputation and your network.

Q: What is your proudest career moment?
A: It’s the many moments when former students exceed their own expectations. It is very powerful to witness a big change in someone’s life trajectory and know you played an important role in that.

Q: Is there anything you’ve learned after graduating law school that you wished you learned in class?
A: The complexity of what it takes to be a really great advocate. The strategy, the big picture, the importance of knowing when to be bold and when to be reserved. Law school is a great start, but there are many things that come with experience and maturity.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you learned in the classroom that has helped you in your career?
A: Critical thinking skills coupled with the ability to communicate. It’s why law school graduates will always have the benefit of diverse career opportunities.

Q: Who are three Native American women law professionals and/or advocates who should be on our radar right now?

  • From Indian law scholars: Professor Maggie Blackhawk (Fond Du Lac Ojibwe) at Penn State Law
  • From Federal Indian Country Crime Prosecutors: Courtney Jordan (Cherokee)
  • From Tribal Governance Roles: ILP grad Doreen McPaul (Navajo)

Q: You are a Native American woman making history and have been the “first” in prominent areas throughout your career—first Native American woman to serve as a Law School dean, first woman justice for the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court—Did you ever feel like the lone Native American voice in the room? How did you overcome those adversities? For that girl/woman who is finding her rhythm and trying to carve out a space to thrive, what advice would you give her?
A: I have often been the only woman and the only Native American voice on certain issues and inside certain physical spaces, but I have rarely felt “alone” in those moments. There’s a big difference in feeling lonely (wishing you had peers around you) and being alone (separated without a connection to others). I am always connected to Indigenous issues and Indigenous people and those connections strengthen me. That being said, many of us will find ourselves in roles and circumstances where we are the perceived “voice” representing others. It’s a delicate balance to maximize the power and duty in that moment while simultaneously educating others on the diversity of viewpoints across Indian country. At the end of the day, always try to be your authentic self and don’t compromise your values. There will always be hard days and difficult situations, but in totality, look for opportunities where the positive energy far exceeds the negative energy. I have learned that when I prioritize my own mental, physical and spiritual health, I am also at the top of my game professionally, including being a better advocate for others.

Review Stacy’s publications:

  • Two draft co-authored articles published in the SSRN, “A Wealth of Sovereign Choices: Tax Implications of McGirt v. Oklahoma and the Promise of Tribal Economic Development” and “A Familiar Crossroads: McGirt v. Oklahoma and the Future of the Federal Indian Law Canon.” Please email any feedback.
  • Interviewed by Creative Native podcast about the launch of her blog, IndigenousWell and how athletics in native youth can positively impact their professional lives as leaders. 
  • Her latest tribute to Congresswoman Deb Haaland in this riveting piece, “Picking up broken glass + broken hearts.”
  • More of her amazing work on her website StacyLeeds.com.

Stay tuned for our next Progress, Power, Purpose series.

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Danielle Williams
Program Coordinator, Indian Legal Program, ASU Law

“Cultural Misappropriation” – Professor Reed 3/31

Professor Trevor Reed is giving a presentation on Wednesday, March 31 at 5:30-7:30pm EST for Intellectual Property Law Association on “Cultural Misappropriation.”

Register for free to join.

About the program: What is cultural misappropriation and why does it matter? Tune in for a conversation between legal experts and activists covering Copyright and Trademark issues of cultural misappropriation such as the Washington pro football team (Harjo v. Pro Football and its relationship with Matal v. Tam), fashion (Urban Outfitters v. Navajo), photography and music on reservations, and traditional knowledge labeling

Progress, Power, Purpose: Helen Burtis (’07)

Women's History Month

In celebrating “Women’s History Month,” we turned to some of the women of the ILP to shed light on women legal professionals and advocates in this Progress, Power, Purpose series. Another wise woman who has been instrumental to the Indian Legal Program, Faculty Associate at ASU Law and ILP alum Helen Burtis is expanding the ILP vision. Community partnerships and preparing student attorneys are important to the Indian Legal Clinic and Helen works to harness the civic power of the Indian Wills Clinic. Despite the global pandemic crisis, the Indian Wills Clinic continued its service and held virtual sessions working with tribal members to discuss estate planning needs for the Pechanga Wills Clinic last semester and Quechan Wills Clinic just last week.  

Q: What does your position entail?
A: As a Faculty Associate, I teach various Indian law classes and do some program work, including organizing the bi-annual Tribal Court Trial Skills College and also creating new on-line Indian Law courses.

Q: Were you always interested in this kind of work?
A:
The law is a second career for me. I spent the first half of my professional life working in the financial services sector, predominantly as an executive for a Fortune 500 insurance carrier. I decided to go into the law because I didn’t want to work my entire life in only one field plus I found legal work, especially Indian law, very interesting.

Q: What advice do you have for Native American women who want to work in this area?
A: As you’re figuring out what you want to do with your career, try not to exaggerate in your mind the importance of any one decision. There are only a few decision in life that take you down a path you can’t later deviate from. If you find something you’re interested in, give it a try. If it turns out to be your dream job, fantastic! If your interest later turns in another direction, you can always pursue that new avenue.

Q: What is your proudest career moment?
A: My proudest moments are when I see ILP students in action, such as Indian Legal Clinic student attorneys drafting wills for Native American landowners. What I feel is a special joy from seeing them reaching their potential in a way that benefits individual tribal citizens and tribal communities.  

Q: Is there anything you’ve learned after graduating that you wished you learned in class?
A: My professors at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the ILP really did great jobs of preparing me to practice. My time in the Indian Legal Clinic and also the two week summer-session Intensive Writing course taught at that time were especially helpful.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you learned in the classroom that has helped you in your career?
A: One of the most valuable lessor I learned was that fully understanding the other party’s position is a great way to be a better advocate for your client. One of my courses in law school was taught by a professor who had represented positions adverse to Indian County many times. Learning the law from their perspective, which was really from the “state’s” perspective, greatly advanced my understanding of why courts often decided cases against tribal interests and also how to create arguments to overcome those state-centered positions.

Q: What is your advice for current students?
A: If things seem bad in the moment, don’t despair and don’t give up. Over the span of a lifetime, bumps in the road will usually even out.

Q: Favorite law school memory.
A: When I was a student attorney in the Indian Legal Clinic, one of my clients won his motion to dismiss for lack of evidence. I was in class when we received the court’s order dismissing the charges against the client with prejudice, so the Clinic’s paralegal called him right away to give him the good news. He said he wanted me to call him when I got out of class because he would believe it when he heard it directly from his attorney. That made me feel legit.  

Continue to Progress, Power, Purpose series.

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Danielle Williams
Program Coordinator, Indian Legal Program, ASU Law

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Progress, Power, Purpose

Life in a pandemic has not been easy for any of us but we remain resilient and stand strong. While political changes are shifting with the new Biden-Harris Administration, we recognize history in the making. Congresswoman Deb Haaland is front and center as a reminder of women in their power. In celebrating “Women’s History Month,” we turned to some of the women of the Indian Legal Program to shed light on women legal professionals and advocates in this Progress, Power, Purpose series. Starting with ILP’s powerhouse lady leads, Executive Director Kate Rosier who was recently appointed as Assistant Dean of Institutional Progress at ASU Law and Faculty Director and Indian Legal Clinic Director Patty Ferguson-Bohnee.

In spite of these tumultuous times, ILP’s lady leads have not skipped a beat. In fact, they have greatly expanded and transformed the digital media scene from offering free CLE virtual events (McGirt webinar is still ASU Law’s largest webinar attended) to increased collaborative partnerships. Since the law school reopened its doors to the administration and began offering hybrid courses in August 2020, these lady leads are in their offices every week with their doors open to current and prospective students, and teaching their respective classes. All in the name of good service. 

As a program led by Native women, we want to celebrate our women who are serving their communities, holding seats at the tables of governance, strategizing to secure victories, blazing trails and setting a tone for the generation of Native women to follow. 

Read their stories in the Progress, Power, Purpose series:

  • Kate Rosier, Director and Assistant Dean of Institutional Progress
  • Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, Faculty Director & ILC Director
  • Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes (’94), Professor of Practice and Indian Gaming & Tribal Self-Governance Programs Director
  • Stacy Leeds, Foundation Professor of Law and Leadership
  • Honorable Diane Humetewa (’93), Professor of Practice
  • Helen Burtis (’07), Faculty Associate
  • Breann Swann Nu’uhiwa (’09), Faculty Associate
  • Torey Dolan (’19), Native Vote Fellow
  • Jennifer Giff (’95), Advisory Council
  • April Olson (’06), Advisory Council
  • Nikki Borchardt Campbell (’09), Advisory Council
  • Judith Dworkin (ASU Law ’86),  Advisory Council
  • Maria Dadgar, Advisory Council
  • Claudeen Bates Arthur (’74)
  • Gloria Kindig (’89)
  • Diane Enos (’92)
  • Debra Gee (’94)
  • Doreen Nanibaa McPaul (’01)
  • Lydelle Davies (’02)
  • Diandra Benally (’05)

Stay tuned for more updates to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Note: Photo cover of Kate and Patty were photographed separately with full safety measures and edited post-production.

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Content creator & photo credit: Danielle Williams
Program Coordinator, Indian Legal Program, ASU Law

Progress, Power, Purpose: Patty Ferguson-Bohnee

Women's History Month

In celebrating “Women’s History Month,” we turned to some of the women of the ILP to shed light on Native women legal professionals and advocates in this Progress, Power, Purpose series. Indian Legal Program Faculty Director, Indian Legal Clinic Director and Professor of Law at ASU Law Patty Ferguson-Bohnee is of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe from Louisiana. In addition to teaching, this formidable force is most known for her continued work on the Arizona Native Vote Election Protection Project, which did Indian Country a great service in the 2020 presidential election, moving closer to a democracy that honors and values Native voters. While the pandemic was not an ideal circumstance, Native Vote took to digital media by storm with interviews, trainings, presentations, collaborations and most notably, the newly created Polling Locator Tool. Read more in Arizona Native Vote Changemakers.

When she’s not leading the charge in Native Vote, Patty is preparing students in her Indian Legal Clinic and promoting diversity and inclusion.

Q: What does your current position entail?
A:
I serve as the Director of the Indian Legal Clinic and Faculty Director of the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU.  I am so blessed to be able to work with leading scholars and practitioners in Indian law and Tribal law and motivated students who really care about serving Indian Country.  In the Indian Legal Clinic, the students practice under my bar license.  We work on matters in tribal, state, federal, and international forums.  The cases range from probate, family, criminal and civil litigation, voting rights, code drafting, environment, climate, and status clarification of tribes. My goal is that the students learn useful practical skills and develop a passion for service, while also serving unmet needs for Indian Country.

Q: Were you always interested in this kind of work? 
A: I became interested in law when I participated in mock trial in high school.  However, I became interested in Indian law as an undergraduate student.  I was able to take a Federal Indian Law class as a freshman, and I never looked back. 

Q: What advice do you have for Native American women who want to work in this area? 
A: The sky is the limit!  Although Native American women are the most underrepresented group in the legal profession, Native American women are doing phenomenal work.  Keep in touch with your law school classmates and build a community of support.  Join your local Native American Bar Association and the National Native American Bar Association.   

Q: What is your proudest career moment? 
A: Assisting Four Louisiana Tribes in securing state recognition. 

Q: Is there anything you’ve learned after graduating law school that you wished you learned in class? 
A: Many law students do not learn that there are three sovereigns—the state, the feds, and tribes.  While this might not be harmful in some states, in the southwest, it could lead to malpractice.  It also means that as Native lawyers and practitioners of tribal law and Federal Indian law, we are always teaching—the judges, opposing counsel, co-workers, clients, and others.  At ASU, it is great to have Indian law professors teach first year courses so that they can provide this lens in which to analyze the law.  It makes us all better attorneys and advocates.  Everyone should learn Indian law basics because it transcends all areas of law. 

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you learned in the classroom that has helped you in your career? 
A: I took a few practical courses that served me well. One was environmental litigation, which included drafting briefs and an appellate argument.  The other was mediation clinic, which taught me to listen and provided me tools to help resolve disagreements.   

Q: Who are three Native American women law professionals and/or advocates who should be on our radar right now?

  • Hilary Tompkins: a strong Native American woman, a leader, the first Native American to serve as the Solicitor of the Interior, and someone who has remained humble and genuine.  She is expanding her knowledge base and using this an opportunity to rethink and reframe Indian law issues.  She gave a thoughtful and powerful lecture at last year’s annual Canby Lecture, and I appreciated the time she spent with our students.   
  • Deb Haaland: If confirmed, Deb Haaland will be the first Native American ever appointed to a cabinet position.  Her views on climate change are important to the future of Tribal communities, and the whole country.   
  • Doreen McPaul (’01): Doreen has served in numerous positions – academia, private law firms, tribal in-house counsel, counsel to tribal leadership, and now, Attorney General of the Navajo Nation. Through this journey, she has volunteered, served on numerous boards and bar leadership, speaks on numerous panels, and coordinates educational programs about Indian law and tribal law. She is also the president and founding board member of the Tribal In-House Counsel Association – a much needed forum to support tribal in-house attorneys and advocates. 

Review Patty’s publications:

  • Received the American Bar Association’s 2020 Spirit of Excellence award
  • “How the Native American Vote Continues to be Suppressed” article published in the ABA Vol. 45, No. 1: Voting Rights.
  • Co-authored with James Tucker article “Voting During a Pandemic Vote-By-Mail Challenges for Native Voters”
  • “The History of Indian Voting Rights in Arizona: Overcoming Decades of Voter Suppression” SSRN article
  • “The Impacts of Coastal Erosion on Tribal Cultural Heritage” article published in the SSRN.

Stay tuned for our next Progress, Power, Purpose series.

________

Danielle Williams
Program Coordinator, Indian Legal Program, ASU Law