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Gonzaga Indian law advisory board meets

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SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga University’s new Indian law program is underway and Feb. 20 the first advisory board meeting was held since Professor Jay Kanassatega was hired to head up the program. The advisory board has representatives from 10 reservations covering four states plus two at-large representatives. Inclement winter weather combined with the long distance some representatives had to travel postponed earlier scheduled meetings.

“I’m very excited to have Jay and excited to gather like this to truly brainstorm some ideas that will make this a very important program for our students, faculty, and for the communities and tribes that you represent,” said Earl Martin, dean of the School of Law. “We see this as a collaborative partnership that is going to benefit everyone.

“Of all the things going on around the law school this is at the top of my list of things I’m excited about. It makes historical sense for the school. It makes geographic sense. It fits our mission, the Jesuit character of the place. It just makes good sense. I think there are great things to be accomplished and that’s why we’re gathered, to figure out what those great things can be.”

Martin explained that when the planning process for the Indian law section was first discussed his admonition to the faculty was, “Let’s make no little plans. I’d rather we aim big and fail than just set small goals and achieve those.”

The meeting was opened up to questions and direction from members. Kanassatega responded to questions and some confusion about the specific mission of the advisory board; “What we’re about is the development of our program.”

He explained that one component is the practical side which would include the Indian law clinic. Other possible ideas might be projects appropriate for students to partner with individual member tribes including such things as family law issues or consumer law regional issues, sort of an outreach program where the school and its students could make a substantive difference for individual member tribes.

The development of the school’s curriculum in Indian law is another subject. “What sort of courses do you think would be helpful for students to have as Gonzaga graduates who would want to practice in representing your tribe?” he asked. “Should we move our curriculum and develop it more on a concentration in this area of law to offer a corps number of classes concentrated in federal Indian law? These are things we can kick around.

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“What I will be looking for are your thoughts and suggestions about what we could do to enhance what you do, what the tribe is trying to accomplish,” Kanassatega concluded.

Dave Bonga, one of the at-large members, responded, “I think one of the first things that needs to be done is to increase the student body as far as Native students here. That is something I would like to see us participate in or help.”

Kanassatega said the school was taking steps to do that but also invited the board members to help. “Identify for us, at the high school or college level, your best and brightest. I have no doubt we’re going to have an A-plus program for them.”

Julie Repp, Nez Perce but also an at-large board member, said that it was great that Gonzaga was looking at recruiting Native students from across the nation, but feels the emphasis should be on local students. “Tribes in this area for whom Gonzaga was created; my heart is focused on recruiting as many from this area as we can.”

Wendell Jim from the Warm Springs Reservation spoke of raising the awareness of Gonzaga University to young Native students and suggested the use of summer camps. He also stressed one thing that could set this program apart from others would be recognizing spiritual sovereignty as opposed to political sovereignty. He also recommended creating a consortium with existing programs at other schools in the region.

Discussions continued around such items as making the students feel they are a part of the school with extracurricular events and cultural activities in addition to the academic program. A house has already been identified for use by Native students to help keep them at Gonzaga; which should also serve as a pipeline for recruiting students to the law program.

Sam Penny, Nez Perce chairman and representative on the board, pointed out the need for students’ education to be expanded to include more knowledge on numerous federal and Indian agencies they will be working with as tribal attorneys. “When attorneys come to the tribe it’s almost like you have to train them so they’ll have that background.”

The meeting concluded with the decision to meet again in mid-July, likely in conjunction with Julyamsh Powwow when many members will be in the area. In the meantime, Kanassatega plans to visit each reservation for two or three days to meet with individuals and to learn about the needs of each reservation and to meet with students.