Wayne student displays a passion for Indian law


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

A history class in junior high with a brief overview of Indian history piqued Nick Candea’s interest.

“I remember thinking, ‘Huh… aren’t they the Americans?’” says Candea, a 3L student at Wayne State University Law School.

Raised in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood, Candea had virtually no exposure to Native American cultures or peoples.

“As I learned more over the years about what really happened—as opposed to what mainstream curricula, especially early-age, history courses highlight—the scale and character of the injustices really affected me,” he says. “Even with education and maturity I still can’t help but wonder why so few in my demographic fail to recognize it.”    

At Wayne Law, Candea was ready to understand and pursue this field, including a study of Johnson v. M’Intosh, the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision that held private citizens could not purchase lands from Native Americans.

“Much of modern Indian law is, to some extent, still rooted in discriminatory and anachronistic principles,” he says.

Candea enjoys his classes with Wayne Law Associate Professor Kirsten Matoy Carlson, a member of the State Bar of Michigan Standing Committee on American Indian Law whose research pays particular attention to strategies used by Indian nations and indigenous groups to reform federal Indian law and policy.

“Her shared experience and knowledge has helped me understand where the law is at, especially in terms of finding specific practical areas of law I can focus and try to make change in rather than obsessing over historic atrocities,” Candea says.

Candea appreciates the work of Carlson and her colleagues at Wayne Law.

“I like the progressive, approachable faculty.” he says. “Most of the professors I’ve had have been great guides through the law both in and out of lecture, and most are happy to give advice about career advice and discuss individual research—they really care about our individual success.”

Candea, who earned an undergrad degree in criminal justice from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, initially headed to Wayne Law with a view to becoming a prosecutor—but after an internship with Judge Annette Berry at the 3rd Circuit Court, decided prosecution wasn’t his calling.

“I realized if I were in that environment every day, I would be unable to ‘leave it at the door’,” he says. “With transactional or civil litigation, you’re generally dealing with money and entity interests, not everyday people and their everyday lives.”

His interest in property law has its roots in childhood, when his father explained the city owned an easement in front of the family’s home.

“The allotment of property to individuals via contract or otherwise was fascinating to me,” Candea says. “Much of that was ignorance and my young age but the fascination continued into adulthood as I learned more about how property works, especially in terms of contracts and transactions involving real property. 

“There’s just something kind of cool about the ‘contract as a working, living instrument thing’ that’s really attractive to me. I suppose the structured nature of it appeals to the philosopher in me—transactional law often mimics the nature of studying and developing philosophy, my minor in undergrad.” 

Recently elected executive article editor of The Journal of Law in Society at Wayne Law, Candea has been exposed to a diverse array of legal experiences.

“At Bodman I worked in real property but also did work with their litigation group—totally different worlds for sure, but equally enjoyable in terms of what I was able to work on. Mixing it up helps keep monotony at bay, and I definitely enjoyed that part.”

“Last summer’s work at Recovery Park Farms and Denovo Real Estate was ‘on the ground’ work—transactions with much smaller entities and non-corporate individuals.”

While he is still mulling his future career path, Candea is interested in working closely with tribes or tribal organizations, Indian law generally, or working in contracts or property.

The Dearborn native now calls the Motor City home, where he volunteers at the Greening of Detroit and helps with park cleanups.

“The city has some absolutely beautiful architecture, from art deco to brutalist,” he says. “The diversity is another thing that drew me to Detroit—you can meet people from all walks.”

But life in the city put paid to keeping homing pigeons.

“I used to have a loft with 35-40 birds,” he says. “While I can’t keep pigeons in the city, I can’t wait to fly them again once I have a yard! I’m also an amateur botanist and have quite a collection of taxonomy books, and way too many plants.”