Title: Associate professor of law and James E. Rogers Fellow in American Indian Law, University of Idaho College of Law. Education: LLM, University of Tulsa College of Law; J.D., University of North Dakota School of Law; B.A., Stanford University Age: 40
Career mentors: Judith Royster, University of Tulsa School of Law; Stacy Leeds, University of Kansas School of Law; Christine Zuni Cruz, University of New Mexico
Advice for new or budding faculty: “Get to know your colleagues and have a sense of what is the meaningful contribution that you want to make in your field. Look to your colleagues as support in bringing that contribution to life.
University of Idaho law professor Angelique EagleWoman first became interested in the law after her African-American uncle was assaulted by a group of deputies and subsequently awarded $75,000 in punitive damages.
“I was 8 years old at the time, and watching the news coverage of the judgment in his favor,” recalls EagleWoman, “I felt that justice had been served and that law was a powerful tool for righting wrongs.”
Three decades later EagleWoman (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) is now the force behind the new Native American law program at the University of Idaho that will provide lawyers with comprehensive training to address a series of unmet legal needs in the tribal communities.
“Tribal governmental legal offices are often understaffed and relied upon to address diverse areas from water adjudication to protection of treaty hunting rights to strengthening the tribal offenses code to advising the tribal government on economic development plans,” she says.
Those same offices are also expected to represent tribal members in such areas as family law, criminal defense and personal injury action.
But perhaps the greatest and most complex need has been trying to figure out what Washington wants. “The policies of the U.S. government have been called schizophrenic due to the swinging between opposite poles of supporting tribal government and seeking to terminate tribal government,” says EagleWoman.
As a result EagleWoman has focused on efforts to bring more coherence to tribal policy, particularly as it pertains to economic development issues, and remains hopeful that such efforts will eventually bring results. “I think that over time loosening the federal hand of government agency oversight on reservations will lead to freeing up tribal lawmakers to create sturdy corporations and economic ventures to benefit the same region they are located in,” she says.
All of which means plenty of work for attorneys specializing in Native American law issues. “There are over 550 federally recognized tribes and over 260 state-recognized tribes. So that means there is a lot of work generated with, by and for those tribes,” she says.
The core curriculum for the Native law program, open to upperlevel students, includes the overview course â€” Native American Law â€” as well as seminars in Native American Natural Resources Law or Tribal Nation Economics and Law.
“The more lawyers we get that are competent in this field,” says EagleWoman, who encourages the professional emphasis for Native American and non-Native American law students, “the better-served the tribes will be, as well as the governments and individuals that are acting with tribes.”
EagleWoman proposed the idea for her program during an initial faculty interview with Idaho’s College of Law. The response was almost immediate and positive, allowing her to launch the program a year later.
That she took such a bold step does not surprise Stacy Leeds, a professor of law and the director of the Tribal Law and Government Center at the University of Kansas. “Angelique is very much one of the rising stars in our field,” says Leeds, who adds that “she has already stepped into a role as mentor to the next group of students coming up. And I think that’s very impressive.”
Before joining the faculty at the University of Idaho, Eagle- Woman worked as a trial attorney for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe/Oyate, an associate attorney at a law firm representing tribal government clients and individual tribal members, and as a tribal public defender for the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma.
All the while EagleWoman, who this fall won the William F. and Joan L. Boyd Teaching award for excellence and innovation in teaching law, wanted to return to the classroom. “I thought that in teaching I would have a greater impact on maybe helping to shape the law as it develops and sending out practitioners into the world,” she says.
She is now getting that chance in a big way as the director of IU’s Native American Law program. “It just touches my heart. I am very thankful and honored to be in a place that allows me to do something like advance the field of Native American law.”
â€” Garry Boulard