American Indian Law Program Opens at Michigan State Law School
EAST LANSING, Mich.
Michigan State University (MSU) College of Law is launching the most comprehensive American Indian Law Program in the Midwest.
MSU will offer one of only two formal programs east of the Mississippi River and one of the most comprehensive programs in the nation among American Bar Association accredited law schools. The program will assist tribal governments with their policy-making objectives, including conducting research to create, implement and enhance their legal infrastructures, on a regional, national and international level.
Professor Donald “Del” Laverdure, an expert in the taxation of indigenous peoples and tribal court systems and an enrolled citizen of the Crow Nation, directs the MSU program. He currently serves as chief justice of the Crow Nation and as appellate judge for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.
MSU’s program will offer students the ability to develop a special expertise in indigenous law, policy and practice, with both theoretical and practical learning components provided by an Indigenous Law Clinic and several elective courses. The program will also sponsor timely symposia, including an Oct. 29 conference on tribal constitutions.
“Michigan State University is ideally situated for this new program. MSU is a leading research institution in the country with an extensive American Indian studies program,” Laverdure says. “Moreover, there are 12 federally recognized tribal governments in Michigan.
“Increasingly, lawyers and judges run into questions of Indian law such as gaming, child welfare, zoning, water rights, criminal jurisdiction and taxation of gas and cigarettes. It will become more difficult to practice law in Michigan without understanding the basics of Indian law, including the concept of tribal sovereignty.”
Laverdure is joined by Kristen Burge, an adjunct professor and staff attorney for the Indigenous Law Clinic. Prior to her arrival at MSU, Burge clerked for Justice William Bablitch at the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“With 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States, 12 of which are in Michigan, and still more petitioning for recognition, the need for lawyers educated in American Indian law is critical,” Burge says.
Statistically, a rather small percentage of attorneys practice in the field of Indian law and even fewer lawyers are American Indian — less than one-fifth of 1 percent of all lawyers in the United States.
“The hands-on, practical experience … provides students with the expertise and competency necessary to successfully identify and address Indian law issues,” says Terrence Blackburn, dean of the MSU College of Law. “This program provides our students with a valuable learning experience and marketable skills that may one day be utilized to practice Indian law for the betterment of indigenous nations.”
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