ILPC and TICA hosts 19th Annual Indigenous Law Conference at MSU Law

By Jake Jenkins

More than 100 attendees from various tribal nations across the country gathered at Michigan State University College of Law for the 19th Annual Indigenous Law Conference last Thursday and Friday.

The conference, hosted by MSU’s Indigenous Law and Policy Center (ILPC) and Tribal In-House Counsel Association (TICA), featured panel discussions and presentations on timely Tribal Government legal issues.

“It’s wonderful to have our community together again,” said Wenona Sigel, ILPC director and Associate Professor of Law. “It’s so great to see our alumni of the center, current students, and practitioners of Indian law working together to address the most difficult problems in this area of law.”

The ILPC established the conference in 2003. In 2015, TICA joined in as a partner if the conference, drawing together some of the country’s foremost scholars on tribal self-governance.

“This partnership is at the heart of what we do,” said Doreen McPaul, president of TICA. “I remember coming to one of the conferences in the past and proposing a partnership with ILPC. It has grown and has been incredible. We are grateful.”

MSU Law Dean Linda Sheryl Greene welcomed attendees to MSU Law and explained the law college’s vision.

“We have the vision here at MSU Law to prepare future lawyers to serve diverse communities in Michigan and beyond,” Greene said. “And that includes providing service to tribal nations and all those who have interest and expertise in this very important area of the law.”

Peter Ortego, general counsel for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, gave the keynote address, encouraging law students and new lawyers to pursue a career in “Indian law.”

“Indian law is not an isolated bubble,” Ortego said. “It’s open to all – even if, like me, you’re not a Native American. If you want to be involved in Indian law, don’t be discouraged.

“I am honored and proud to be a tribal representative,” he said. “I believe in what they’re doing.”

Kate Fort, MSU director of Clinics and director of Indian Law Clinic, presented a summary of the oral arguments in the Haaland v. Brackeen case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Fort was in court on Nov. 9 to observe the opening of the Indian Child Welfare case, for which she co-wrote the brief.

Other panel discussions included Labor and Employment law; Fiduciary Governance and Best Practices for Tribal Investment Stewards; Basics of Engaging with Tribal Clients; Tribal Consultation and Environmental Justice; Imposter Syndrome, Elimination of Bias, and Tribal In-House Practice; and National Tribal Opioid Litigation.

A unique aspect of the conference was that MSU Law students served as moderators for some panels. This experience allowed students to not only network but also gain first-hand experience as to how Indigenous law is practiced.

“This is why I came to law school, to practice in the field of Indigenous law,” said Rory Wheeler. “Being a part of this conference is important because of so many pressing issues we currently have. I have met some great people and it has been good to receive advice and mentorship.”

Other MSU students and staff moderators include: Jamie Williams; Collin Banghart; and Cassondra Church, Legal Counselor for ILPC.

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