Commentary Events Student Reflections

Opinion: Federal Bar Association’s Indian Law Conference

The Federal Bar Association’s Indian Law Conference took place from April 5-6, 2018 at the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. This year, the Federal Bar Association celebrated its 43rd Annual Indian Law Conference. The theme of this year’s Indian Law Conference was the examination of how tribal nations can use existing and new tools to effectively protect and secure their futures. In addition, 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the 30th anniversary for the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), and 50th anniversary of the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA).

The annual Indian Law Conference covers many areas of law that are most relevant and controversial in Indian Country. Among the areas of law covered, the conference highlighted the three anniversary statutes by addressing them as part of their plenary line up, such as: “30 Years Later: IGRA and Economic Development,” “The Indian Civil Rights Act at 50: The Intersection of Individual Civil Rights, Human Rights, and Tribal Sovereignty,” and “40 years later: ICWA and the Role of Tribal Courts.” Each session was not only insightful, but compelling. The “IGRA and Economic Development” illustrated the personal relationships between the head of the National Indian Gaming Commission and tribal leaders. Del Laverdure shared an entertaining anecdote about a hostile meeting he had with a tribal leader, where the tribal leader was so frustrated and angry that he had to shout his demands at Del. Only after the meeting, the tribal leader approached Del and apologized as if it was another day at the office. Del had shared with the audience that he understood where the tribal leader was coming from. Just like Del had tribal leaders to answer to, the tribal leader had his people to answer to. In the same plenary, Larry Roberts presented IGRA facts that was compelling. Since the enactment of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Indian communities that have adopted Indian gaming in their areas, have exponentially increased their employment rate, revenues, and overall economies. The Indian gaming industry is now worth more than thirty-one billion dollars.

The Fed Bar Indian Law Conference attracts hundreds of legal professionals and law school students from around the country. Thus, it creates an opportunity for many legal professionals and law students to network and exchange information. It is not uncommon for students to meet with potential employers and for legal professions to develop a working relationship with other tribes or firms. This would be one of the most attractive features of the conference.

In addition, the National Native American Law Student Association (NNALSA) uses the annual Indian Law Conference as a platform to network, meet, and hold elections for its board. NNALSA hosts informational panels for their members to meet practicing attorneys and network with other law students.

Overall, the Fed Bar conference was a great experience because it provided insightful panel discussions, excellent networking opportunities, and a good platform for NNALSA to have its annual meeting.

During the Conference, it was also announced that it will be returning to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the 2019 Conference! We look forward to seeing all of the Indian law attorneys present in TLJ’s home city!

By Lyman Paul

Lyman Paul is a 2L students at UNM School of Law. He is from the Navajo Nation (Diné). He is of the Sleeping Rock People Clan (Tsenabił nii) and born for the Bitter Water Clan (Tódich’ii’nii). He is from Pine Hill, New Mexico on the Ramah Navajo Chapter, near Ramah, NM. He has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in Civil Engineering from the Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Commentary Events ICRA Symposium Indigenous Law Opinion

Reflections: FedBar Indian Law Conference and ICRA Symposium

I attended the Federal Bar Association Annual Indian Law Conference. At the dinner reception, I was placed next a woman tribal leader. During our conversation, she asked where I was from and, when she found out that I attend UNM School of Law, if I had attended the 50th ICRA symposium. We then began a deep conversation about tribal membership. I think it is interesting that people outside of tribal communities ask me, how much Indian I am. I feel strange replying that I am full-blooded. To me the status of being full-blooded is not as significant as to who my clans are and who I am related to. The tribal leader and I lamented over how difficult it is to change the idea of blood quantum. It is understandable most changes to our tribes’ internal self-determination has created more challenges and limited our ability to enact our inherent sovereignty. The issue of blood quantum even affects issues of health. Some Navajo children living on the Navajo Nation do not qualify for Indian Health Services (IHS) because they do not meet the eligible blood quantum levels. To enroll for IHS services, an individual is required to present a Certificate of Indian Blood. This leaves a population of non-member reservation residents that do not have access to health services. Having a lack of access to resources creates gaps and vulnerable populations. Asking for change is a challenge but it is necessary.

By Ernestine Chaco, Staff

Ernestine is Diné (Navajo) from Tsé’íí’ahi (Standing Rock), N.M. She attended University of California-Davis School of Medicine and plans to be an emergency medicine physician. During her 4th year of medical school, she took a leave of absence to pursue her passion of understanding the intersection between Federal Indian Law and health issues at UNM School of Law. She is currently a second-year law student.  Ernestine holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from Swarthmore College and a Master’s Degree in Medical Sciences from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Events ICRA Symposium Student Reflections

Reflections on the ICRA Symposium

I was the timekeeper for the “Indigenous Civil, Cultural, Political, and Human Rights: E/Merging Issues” panel hosted by Prof. Christine Zuni-Cruz.  I did not know what to expect, truthfully, but I can say that by the time the panel discussion was over, I was a bit shaken.  Each speaker spoke of the profound effects both the laws of the dominant society and how the inner-tribal laws often fail the most vulnerable of the tribal societies. Every time I had to raise the timekeeping cards, I felt as though I was now also part of the short-changing mechanism.  I also started thinking about why none of these issues ever get any real discussion or coverage? I am not sure how these issues are best resolved but talking about them is a start. My dream would be for the TLJ to be a contributor in turning the dialogue into real solutions.

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By Kaythee Hlaing

Kaythee Hlaing was born in Rangoon, Burma and came to the United States in 2002.  She attend  Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY and received her Bachelor’s in Political Studies in 2006.  Prior to attending law school, she worked as an Associate at a mutual fund in Santa Fe, NM, while also obtaining a Masters degree in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College.​  Kaythee’s interests include: dogs, books, learning new languages, and stewardship of natural resources.


Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women Vigil

Community members gathered on a chilly fall day to honor the lives of the many indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing. On October 27, 2017, indigenous women from four local organizations (First Nations Community Healthsource, Planned Parenthood, Albuquerque Indian Health Board, and Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women) held a vigil in remembrance of those lost and to promote healing.

The event held at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial included prayers, a drumming circle, candles, poetry, and tribal songs. In addition, attendees were encouraged to bring a single earring to represent the Missing/Murdered Indigenous Women. There were guest speakers and audience volunteers that spoke about their experiences with violence. One of the speakers,  a transgender woman, spoke of the heightened risk of violence faced by the indigenous LGBT community. Debra Haaland, former New Mexico Democratic Party chair and current Congressional candidate, spoke of the gaps between tribal and federal law enforcement which have played a role in exacerbating the issue of violence.

By Verenice Peregrino

Verenice is a 2L at UNM School of Law. She is the Vice President of the Mexican American Law Student Association (MALSA) and hopes to go into education law.

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History Indigenous Law

Historical Trauma and Healing from Boarding School Abuse

From the 1890s to the 1970s, the U.S. government sought to “Christianize” Native Americans by separating children from their Native culture, which ultimately led to one of the darkest chapters in Native American history: boarding schools.[1] Many Native American children suffered from both physical and emotional abuse while attending boarding schools, which has given rise to historical trauma.[2]

Historical trauma is unresolved grief from past experience that negatively impacts the emotional and physical welfare of survivors and the next generations.[3] Thousands of children in both the United States and Canada suffered from many acts of cruelty, including severe emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.[4] Many children were forced to live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, as well as given  insufficient meals from food of very poor quality.[5] In addition to these horrific, disease-filled living conditions, the children were forced to do hard labor to teach them the meaning of hard work.[6] Boarding schools attempted to eradicate the Native American culture, traditions, and languages by punishing or beating children for practicing their culture.[7] As a result, one of the major impacts of the boarding schools was the loss of culture and personal identity.[8]

Today, depression, substance abuse, and suicide are common issues in Native American communities.[9] One research study on historical trauma interviewed elders who attended boarding schools as children.[10] Most of the elders participating in this interview stated that they suffered from depression and alcoholism as adults.[11] Some also shared that they developed a strict parenting style with their children similar to the strictness that they were treated with growing up in the boarding schools.[12] Survivors often struggled as parents because the forced separation from their families deprived survivors of the opportunity to learn their culture, traditions, and parenting skills from their families.[13]

In another research study that focused on healing from historical trauma, boarding school survivors discussed ways of healing from the historical trauma of boarding schools.[14] A participant suggested creating awareness of the cruelties suffered at the boarding school to start a dialogue about the effects of the boarding schools and to educate future generations on the history of boarding schools.[15] Another participant discussed returning and reconnecting to traditions and spirituality.[16] The power of language was also discussed by one participant, who stated that relearning the language helped to heal the trauma of the forced assimilation of the boarding schools.[17] As survivors heal from their experience at boarding schools, the path to legal remedies becomes more complicated due to the government’s unwillingness to acknowledge the physical and emotional damage caused by the boarding schools.

Hundreds of survivors have brought suits against individuals from the boarding schools and institutions responsible for physical and sexual abuse.[18] However, some states have attempted to prevent lawsuits from boarding school survivors. South Dakota, for example, passed legislation that set the statute of limitations to three years after the survivors turned twenty-one.[19] Sadly, this is not the first  attempt to avoid consequences from the abuses from the boarding schools. In 1948, the UN Convention on Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide expanded the definition of genocide to include more than the mass killing of groups of individuals.[20] As a result, the U.S. could have faced punishment for its treatment of both Native Americans and African Americans. To avoid punishment, however, the U.S. did not ratify this 1948 Genocide Convention until 1988.[21]

Many survivors suffered unthinkable forms of abuse, and they have continued to feel the effects of the trauma they experienced as children. Reconnecting with culture, traditions, and language has helped survivors to heal from the physical and emotional abuse committed at the boarding schools. Today, we can create awareness of the effects of historical to better understand this dark time in history.

By Savanna Duran

Savanna Duran is a 2L at UNM School of Law. She was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and double majored in English and Spanish at UNM. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, watching movies, and listening to music. She would like to thank her family, husband, and son for their support.

[1] Andrea A. Curcio, Civil Claims for Uncivilized Acts: Filing Suit Against the Government for American Indian Boarding School Abuses, 4 Hastings Race and Poverty L. J. 46 (2006).

[2] Lisa Greyshield et. al. Understand and Healing Historical Trauma: The Perspectives of Native American Elders, 37:4 Journal of Mental Health Counseling 295 (2015).

[3] Id. at 296.

[4] Curcio, supra note 1, at 46-47, 68.

[5] Id, at 63-64.

[6] Id. at 64-67.

[7] Greyshield, et. al., supra note 2, at 296; Curio, supra note 1, at 60-61.

[8] Curio, supra note 1, at 59-61.

[9] Greyshield et. al., supra note 2, at 296.

[10] Barbara K. Charbonneau-Dahlen, John Lowe & Staci Leon Morris. Giving Voice to Historical Trauma Through Storytelling: The Impact of Boarding School Experience on American Indians, 25 Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma 598, 602 (2016).

[11] Id. at 611.

[12] Id.

[13] Curcio, supra note 1, at 73-74.

[14] Greyshield et. al., supra note 2, at 303.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Charbonneau-Dahlen, John Lowe & Staci Leon Morris, supra at note 10, 612-613.

[19] Id. at 613.

[20] Curio, supra at note 1, at 111-112.

[21] Id.

Student Reflections

Taking Time for Diversity

I took a trip through the Pueblo of Isleta today on my way to a meeting. I was amazed at how much I have forgotten – the beauty and uniqueness of the pueblo, the strength of the people who live there and have lived there for so long, and the richness of the history and culture which are so easily overlooked. It is easy to get caught in our own world and forget that there is a vast world out there which is full of different types of people. In so many ways, we are all so different. Yet there are also a multitude of ways in which we are the same. It is worth learning about other cultures, especially as an American learning about the first Americans who were and are so resilient.

There are regularly events around us that will help us to understand the cultures that surround us, if only we are willing to step out of our box and experience them. It is only by first-hand experience that we can truly learn what lies in our hearts and in the hearts of those around us. We can read about culture all day, but only by immersion can we truly understand the importance of the cultures that surround us. So, I encourage you to step out of your box and experience something new. Go to a feast day. Go to a dance at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Visit a historical site or a pueblo that offers tours and explanations of their history. It is well worth the trip.

Culture and the Universe


Two nights ago
in the canyon darkness,
only the half-moon and stars,
only mere men.
Prayer, faith, love,

We are measured
by vastness beyond ourselves.
Dark is light.
Stone is rising.

I don’t know
if humankind understands
culture: the act
of being human
is not easy knowledge.

With painted wooden sticks
and feathers, we journey
into the canyon toward stone,
a massive presence
in midwinter.

We stop.
Lean into me.
The universe
sings in quiet meditation.

We are wordless:
I am in you.

Without knowing why
culture needs our knowledge,
we are one self in the canyon.
And the stone wall
I lean upon spins me
wordless and silent
to the reach of stars
and to the heavens within.

It’s not humankind after all
nor is it culture
that limits us.
It is the vastness
we do not enter.
It is the stars
we do not let own us.[1]

By Cari Neill

Cari Neill is a 3L at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

[1] Simon Ortiz, “Culture and the Universe” from Out There Somewhere. Copyright © 2002 by Simon Ortiz. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.