Profile in Brief Indigenous Interests

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Matthew Fletcher, associate professor at Michigan State University College of Law, was drawn to law by his family and by tribal elders in his Indian communities -- the Grand Traverse Band and the Pokagon Band.

"There was and is an acute need for American Indian lawyers, to work with tribal governments and to work on American Indian issues nationally in every sphere of government," he says.

After earning his bachelor's degree in English language and literature from the University of Michigan in 1994, Fletcher graduated from the U-M Law School in 1997. He is a member of the state bar in Arizona, Michigan, and Washington.

Fletcher, who teaches Advanced Topics in Indian Law, Constitutional Law I, Federal Law and Indian Tribes, began thinking about teaching when he realized that much of the legal work he was doing for Indian tribal clients had never been done before.

"There was no analytical track record upon which to build. Everything was an issue of first impression," he says. "These experiences, as well as my love of writing, gave me the inspiration to develop my legal scholarship in American Indian law."

Fletcher has worked as a staff attorney for four Indian Tribes: the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Suquamish Tribe, and Grand Traverse Band. He is a citizen of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, located in Peshawbestown on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula.

He is the Chief Justice of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Supreme Court, sits as an appellate judge for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and the Hoopa Valley Tribe, and recently accepted an appointment to the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Supreme Court.

The MSU College of Law is a family affair for Fletcher: his wife, Wenona Singel, a citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, is an assistant professor. She also is Chief Justice of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and a former member of the tribe's Economic Development Commission; and Of Counsel to the law firm of Kanji & Katzen, a firm with offices in Ann Arbor and Seattle that specializes in representing tribes in Indian law matters.

The couple spearheads the MSU Indigenous Law and Policy Center, where Fletcher is director; Kate Fort is associate director and staff attorney; Peter Vicaire is the Center's 2010-11 Fellow; and Rose Petoskey is program coordinator. The Center has provided services to tribes in Michigan, Alaska Native Corporations, and tribal courts across the country. Staff has delivered testimony to the Michigan Law Revision Commission and provided written comments on Proposition 2 (a constitutional amendment eliminating affirmative action) to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. Students have presented to the Michigan Legislature on Michigan's Tribal Economies through the Legislative program, "House University."

The Center each year hosts a major conference; the 2010 conference was titled, "Persuasion and Ideology: Politically Divisive Cases in Appellate Courts." The Center has also hosted the Michigan Indian Judicial Association and its keynote speaker, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Michael Cavanagh. In mid-November, it hosted a talk by Fletcher on Michigan Anishinaabek treaty rights

Co-author of the sixth edition of "Cases on Federal Indian Law," and author of "American Indian Tribal Law," the first casebook for law students on tribal law, Fletcher recently published "American Indian Education: Counternarratives in Racism, Struggle, and the Law," and co-edited "Facing the Future: The Indian Child Welfare Act at 30" with Singel and Fort. He has published articles with University of Colorado Law Review, Arizona Law Review, Harvard Journal on Legislation, Hastings Law Journal, Houston Law Review, and Tulane Law Review.

Fletcher's blog, Turtle Talk, at http://turtletalk.wordpress.com, which has garnered close to a million hits, has links to Tribal law materials and newspapers, and books, DVDs and other resources.

"American Indian tribes are timeless entities, and my children and their children no doubt will be a part of those communities," he says. "Our work today ensures that future, and each generation that follows will be obligated to continue the work."

Published: Wed, Nov 24, 2010