Each November, the United States observes National Native American Heritage Month. This is a time that celebrates Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and affiliated Island communities. Yet this month was only installed as an official holiday in 1990 by George H. W. Bush, and few things are publicly known about the celebration of this month aside from understanding the erasure of Native American history when viewing “Thanksgiving” as a time of peace, thanks, and prosperity.
We can use this time to reflect on how we, as attorneys or aspiring attorneys, can uplift our Native American community. Native Americans, while also subject to U.S. federal and state laws, are also subject to tribal governance. Federal law recognizes a special kind of Indian sovereign authority to govern themselves, subject to an overriding federal authority. Indian tribes are considered by federal law to be “domestic, dependent nations.” There are numerous federal statutes dealing with Indian rights and governance, such as the Tribal Law and Order Act, the Indian Reorganization Act, and the Indian Civil Rights Act (also known as the Indian Bill of Rights). 28 U.S.C. § 1360 deals with state civil jurisdiction in actions in which Native Americans are parties. There are many states that offer pro bono services to Native Americans with the goal of (1) preserving and enhancing the Indian land base; (2) securing self-determination; (3) securing restoration of services; (4) securing bureaucratic accountability for government policies, actions, or omission; and (5) protecting Indian heritage and culture. There are also opportunities to aid tribes in setting up bylaws and governance structure, as well as assisting them with gambling laws and understanding their rights. And a big part of NWOCC’s goal is to support and encourage female womxn of color, including those of Native American descent, to attend law school and support their communities.
One such example of an inspiring figure is Lyda Burton Conley. Conley was the first female Native American attorney in the U.S. She was admitted to the Missouri State bar in 1902 and was a member of the Wyandot tribe. She is best known for her passionate defense of the Huron Place Cemetery in Kansas City, Kan., the burial grounds for many Wyandots. She did her best to appeal the case and protect the burial ground from being sold but the Supreme Court refused to hear it. Conley raised public support up to the point that the House of Representatives Indian Affairs committee finally banned desecration of the cemetery in 1912.
As part of our way of honoring the Native Americans, National WOCC starts off every event and program with a statement recognizing what native land we are on. This is a small piece of research that YOU can use to learn what native land you inhabit in your hometown, your college, or law school.
By: Trinh Truong
Chief Marketing Officer