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Indian Law program expands at Seattle University School of Law

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SEATTLE – Seattle University School of Law will significantly expand its curriculum and programming in Indian law and welcomed expert Eric Eberhard as a distinguished practitioner in residence. Eberhard is working closely with Douglas Nash, who has served as director of the Institute for Indian Estate Planning and Probate since 2005, and Deputy Director Cecelia Burke.

The School of Law is committed to educating and training both Native and non-Native students, attorneys and community leaders in areas of federal Indian law and other legal, cultural and policy issues that impact tribes and Native people. In addition to the institute, the law school has faculty focused on Native American issues, a strong curriculum and an attorney for Native American Projects who oversees various opportunities for students.

“We will draw on all of the law school’s strengths to build an even stronger program, which will benefit our students, tribes and the community,” Dean Kellye Testy said. “I am proud of the work we have done and look forward to an even broader approach to this important and meaningful area of law.”

The institute develops projects to provide estate planning services to tribal members at no cost, provides training on the American Indian Probate Reform Act, consults with tribes regarding tribal probate code development and serves as a clearing house for information.

The institute has held four national symposia and a fifth is scheduled for May 21 – 22 at the school. Through its projects, the institute has provided community education to more than 14,000 Indian land owners, served more than 3,300 clients, executed approximately 1,400 wills and 1,100 other estate planning documents and successfully reduced fractionation of trust land interests in approximately 87 percent of the estate plans.

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While continuing that work, the institute has grown to provide services to the Muckleshoot and Nez Perce tribes. Attorneys within the institute will be available to work with tribes on traditional areas of Indian law such as treaty rights, water rights, sovereignty and jurisdictional issues and will expand into newer areas of tribal interest such as gaming and business.

“We will focus on the role tribes play when acting as entrepreneurs, as tribes are diversifying,” Eberhard said.

He said tribes are increasingly creating business opportunities, including but not limited to gaming. Hotels, spas, shopping, tourism and other businesses are serving both tribes and non-Indian communities, but some deals fall through because there is not enough legal or business knowledge on both sides to make them happen. “These are opportunities that were unheard of 10 years ago.”

Curriculum changes will mirror these themes. When tribes act in their capacity as the owners of natural resources and businesses, they encounter areas of the law that are not necessarily implicated when they act in their capacity as governments. Eberhard is pleased that the School of Law has recognized the need for greater focus on this area of the law and has made a real commitment to addressing it.

The School of Law faculty includes Professor Gregory Silverman, a member of the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut. Across all legal disciplines the faculty integrates Indian law cases and issues impacting tribes and tribal communities into its curriculum and scholarship. The School of Law offers several courses in addition to the basic course Federal Indian Law including Indian Law and Natural Resources, an Indian Trusts and Estates Clinic and Contemporary Issues in Indian Law, which examines the impact of recent judicial opinions and legislative actions on the fundamental principles of Indian law.

Professor Catherine O’Neill focuses her scholarship issues of justice in environmental law and policy. In particular, her work considers the effects of contamination and depletion of fish and other resources relied upon by tribes and their members, communities of color and low-income communities. She has worked with various tribes on issues of contaminated fish and waters and has served as a pro bono consultant to the attorneys for the National Congress of American Indians and other tribes in litigation challenging mercury regulations.