Tribal Law & Government Center

Founded in 1995, the Tribal Law & Government Center at KU Law aims to prepare a new generation of advocates for careers representing Indigenous peoples.

Overview

Effectively representing Indian nations and tribes requires an understanding of the laws, history and policies that affect them. 

The complexity of "Indian law" – and the lack of specific programs designed to educate graduates about the unique legal and cultural needs of Indian people – has created a situation in which lawyers representing Indian tribes place too great an emphasis on state law and federal law when dealing with Indian nations. As a result, these lawyers may unconsciously be contributing to the weakening of unique tribal legal and governance traditions by recommending the adoption of tribal laws and policies founded upon the Anglo-American legal and political traditions rather than the unique traditions of their tribal clients.

Through its activities, the Tribal Law & Government Center at KU Law aims to equip students and legal professionals who will represent Indian nations with the skills necessary to appreciate and strengthen the unique nature of Indigenous tribal legal systems.

Academic Programs

KU Law offers a core curriculum in tribal law courses, covering topics such as Federal Indian Law and Native American Natural Resources. Students can also enroll in the Tribal Lawyer Certificate program, a JD/MA in Indigenous Studies joint degree program, and the Tribal Judicial Support Clinic.

Tribal Law & Government Center Academic Programs

Visit the Tribal Law area of study guide to learn about core courses and related courses, student organizations and other opportunities to engage in service projects, social events and academic competitions.

KU Law offers a JD/MA in Indigenous Studies joint degree program. The program allows students to obtain both degrees in seven semesters, including summer school. It is of special interest to students who intend to become leaders and policymakers in Indigenous communities worldwide. 

The University of Kansas was the third institution of higher learning in the United States to offer a joint degree program relating to Indigenous peoples.

The Tribal Lawyer Certificate program is designed to ensure that law students aspiring to a career representing Indian nations have the skills necessary to appreciate and strengthen the unique nature of Indigenous tribal legal systems.

The Tribal Judicial Support Clinic gives second- and third-year students the opportunity to assist tribal court systems through a variety of projects. Although the Tribal Law & Government Center gives priority to the research requests of regional tribes (Kansas and Oklahoma), clinical students have worked on projects for tribal courts throughout the nation.

KU Law Partnership with United Nations Institute for Training and Research

Students enrolled in the Mediation Clinic and Tribal Judicial Support Clinic may have the opportunity to train diplomats on Indigenous issues and conflict resolution as part of a partnership between KU Law and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Read more about the partnership with UNITAR.


Tribal Law & Government Conference

The annual Tribal Law & Government Conference at KU Law highlights how work addressing the emerging and historical problems of Indigenous law and governance are critical to strengthening tribal sovereignty. Check back for details about the next conference.

A judge speaks at the front of a classroom

Past Tribal Law & Government Conferences

The Tribal Law & Government Conference devotes significant scholarly attention to the study of organic tribal law, modern tribal governments and the evolution of tribal common law. Conferences typically offer CLE credit for a fee.

Find past conferences themes, speakers and topics in the menu below.

Past Tribal Law Conferences

23rd Annual Tribal Law & Government Conference

2019 Tribal Law and Government Conference Poster

The U.S. Supreme Court and the Future of Federal Indian Law

Friday, March 8, 2019

American Indian law scholars and advocates gathered at the University of Kansas in March 2019 to discuss the “U.S. Supreme Court and the Future of Federal Indian Law” during the 23rd annual Tribal Law & Government Conference.

Speakers and topics included:

  • Keynote speaker: Ian Gershengorn, Chair of the Appellate and Supreme Court Practice Group at Jenner and Block
  • Ethan Jones, Yakama Nation – “Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc.: Taxation in Indian Country”
  • Joel Williams, Native American Rights Fund – “Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc.: Taxation in Indian Country”
  • Elizabeth Kronk Warner, Professor and Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, University of Kansas School of Law; Director, KU Tribal Law & Government Center; Affiliated Professor, Indigenous Studies – “Ethical Issues Arising in Indian Country”
  • Professor Bethany Berger, University of Connecticut School of Law – "The Future of Indian Reservations following Carpenter v. Murphy"
  • Professor Colette Routel, Mitchell Hamline School of Law – "The Future of Indian Reservations following Carpenter v. Murphy"
  • Professor Monte Mills, Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana – "The Scope of Tribal Treaty Rights following Herrera v. Wyoming"
  • Professor Colette Routel, Mitchell Hamline School of Law – "The Scope of Tribal Treaty Rights following Herrera v. Wyoming"

22nd Annual Tribal Law & Government Conference

2018 Tribal Law and Government Conference Poster

Tribal-State Collaborations: Advantages and Obstacles

Friday, March 9, 2018 

American Indian law scholars and advocates gathered at the University of Kansas in March 2018 to discuss the “Tribal-State Collaborations: Advantages & Obstacles” during the 22nd annual Tribal Law & Government Conference. Judge William Thorne, the first Native American appointed to the Utah judiciary, delivered the keynote address. 

Speakers and topics included:

  • Keynote speaker: Judge William Thorne
  • Hon. Mike Petoskey, Chief Judge, Pokagon Band – “Collaborations between State and Tribal Courts”
  • Hon. Korey Wahwassuck, Judge, Ninth Judicial District, Minnesota – “Collaborations between State and Tribal Courts”
  • Sarah Deer, Professor, International & Interdisciplinary Studies - Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, School of Public Affairs & Administration, University of Kansas – “Tribal/State Collaborations Related to Law Enforcement, ICWA, and Cultural Preservation”
  • Victoria Sweet, Program Attorney, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges – “Tribal/State Collaborations Related to Law Enforcement, ICWA, and Cultural Preservation”
  • Tonya Kowalski, Professor, Washburn Law School – “Tribal/State Collaborations Related to Law Enforcement, ICWA, and Cultural Preservation”
  • Heather Whiteman Runs Him, Staff Attorney, Native American Rights Fund – “Maintaining Tribal Confidences”

21st Annual Tribal Law & Government Conference

2017 Tribal Law and Government Conference Poster: Indian Gaming in the 21st Century

Indian Gaming in the 21st Century

Friday, March 10, 2017 

The 2017 Tribal Law & Government Conference at the University of Kansas School of Law discussed the legal issues surrounding Indian gaming throughout the United States and in Kansas. The event also provided a brief introduction to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Speakers and topics included:

  • Keynote speaker: Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri, National Indian Gaming Commission
  • Richard Frias, Partner, Frias Indian Law and Policy – “Hot Topics in Indian Gaming”
  • Steven Light, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Co-Director, Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy, University of North Dakota – “Hot Topics in Indian Gaming”
  • Yonne Tiger, Attorney at Law – “Hot Topics in Indian Gaming”
  • Russ Brien, Brien Law LLC – “Hot Topics in Indian Gaming (Kansas)”
  • Mark Dodd, Executive Director, Kansas State Gaming Agency – “Hot Topics in Indian Gaming (Kansas)”
  • Kaighn Smith Jr., Drummond Woodson, Attorneys at Law – “Ethical 'Obligations' and Affirmative Tribal Sovereignty”

20th Annual Tribal Law & Government Conference

2016 Tribal Law and Government Conference Poster

Examining and Reconsidering Indian Mascots in the 21st Century

Friday, March 11, 2016

The 2016 Tribal Law & Government Conference at the University of Kansas School of Law discussed the legal issues surrounding the use of images of American Indians as sports mascots. The conference was co-sponsored by the KU Tribal Law & Government Center and KU Student Senate.

Speakers and topics included:

  • Keynote speaker: Suzan Shown Harjo, President, Morning Star Institute
  • Cornel Pewewardy, Professor & Director of Indigenous Nations Studies, Portland State University – “Considering Mascots from a Native Perspective”
  • Rebecca Tsosie, Regents’ Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and Vice Provost for Inclusion and Community Engagement at Arizona State University – “Considering Mascots from a Native Perspective”
  • Dan Wildcat, Director of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies Center and Dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences at Haskell Indian Nations University – “Considering Mascots from a Native Perspective”
  • Marc Edelman, Professor Law and Sports Business Scholar, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College CUNY – “Intellectual Property and Sports Law Perspectives on Native Mascots”
  • Jasmine Abdel-Kahlik, Associate Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law – “Intellectual Property and Sports Law Perspectives on Native Mascots”
  • D. Michael McBride III, Director, Crowe & Dunlevy – “Ethical Considerations when Representing Tribal Nations”

Questions?

Shawn Watts
Director, Tribal Law & Government Center
Clinical Associate Professor
shawn.watts@ku.edu
785-864-4513

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