Indian Law program expands to offer more opportunities

Seattle University School of Law will significantly expand its curriculum and programming in Indian law and welcomes expert Eric Eberhard as a distinguished practitioner in residence. Eberhard is working closely with Douglas Nash, who has served as director of the Institute for Indian Estate Planning and Probate since 2005, and Deputy Director Cecelia Burke.

The School of Law is committed to educating and training both Native and non-Native students, attorneys and community leaders in areas of federal Indian law and other legal, cultural and policy issues that impact tribes and Native people. In addition to the Institute - the only one of its kind in the country - the law school has faculty focused on Native American issues, a strong curriculum and an attorney for Native American Projects who oversees various opportunities for students.

"We will draw on all of the law school's strengths to build an even stronger program, which will benefit our students, tribes and the community," Dean Kellye Testy said. "I am proud of the work we have done and look forward to an even broader approach to this important and meaningful area of law."

The Institute develops projects to provide estate planning services to tribal members at no cost, provides training on the American Indian Probate Reform Act, consults with tribes regarding tribal probate code development and serves as a clearing house for information.

The Institute has held four national symposia and a fifth is scheduled for May 21 - 22, 2009, at the law school. Through its projects, the Institute has provided community education to more than 14,000 Indian land owners, served more than 3,300 clients, executed approximately 1,400 wills and 1,100 other estate planning documents and successfully reduced fractionation of trust land interests in approximately 87 percent of the estate plans.

While continuing that work, the Institute has grown to provide services to the Muckleshoot and Nez Perce tribes under contract. Attorneys within the Institute will be available to work with tribes on traditional areas of Indian law such as treaty rights, water rights, sovereignty and jurisdictional issues and will also expand into newer areas of tribal interest such as gaming and business.

"We will focus on the role tribes play when acting as entrepreneurs, as tribes are diversifying," Eberhard said.

Tribes are increasingly creating business opportunities, including but not limited to gaming. Hotels, spas, shopping, tourism and other businesses are serving both tribes and non-Indian communities, but some deals fall through because there is not enough legal or business knowledge on both sides to make them happen, Eberhard said.

"These are opportunities that were unheard of 10 years ago," Eberhard said. Curriculum changes will mirror these themes. When Tribes act in their capacity as the owners of natural resources and businesses, they encounter areas of the law that are not necessarily implicated when they act in their capacity as governments. Eberhard said that he is very pleased that the School of Law has recognized the need for greater focus on this area of the law and has made a real commitment to addressing it.

The School of Law faculty includes Professor Gregory Silverman, a member of the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut. Across all legal disciplines the faculty integrates Indian law cases and issues impacting tribes and tribal communities into its curriculum and scholarship. The School of Law offers several courses in addition to the basic course federal Indian Law including Indian Law and Natural Resources, an Indian Trusts and Estates Clinic and Contemporary Issues in Indian Law, which examines the impact of recent judicial opinions and legislative actions on the fundamental principles of Indian law.

Professor Catherine O'Neill focuses her scholarship issues of justice in environmental law and policy. In particular, her work considers the effects of contamination and depletion of fish and other resources relied upon by tribes and their members, communities of color and low-income communities. She has worked with various tribes on issues of contaminated fish and waters and has served as a pro bono consultant to the attorneys for the National Congress of American Indians and other tribes in litigation challenging mercury regulations.

In addition, Silverman, Nash and Professor Lisa Brodoff regularly serve as Tribal Court Judges and Judicial Advisors. Nash serves as a judge for the Tulalip Tribal Court of Appeals, and he is also a Judicial Advisor to the Warm Springs Tribal Court of Appeals in Oregon.

Experiential learning is also a focus of the law school. Stephanie Nichols, the attorney for Native American Projects, oversees projects in which law students work under the direction of attorneys to provide will drafting and other estate planning services for tribal communities. A graduate of the law school who completed a summer internship in the Institute's Indian Estate Planning Project, she also runs the law school's Study Law in Alaska Program and teaches an Alaska Native Law class for that program. Before assuming her position at the law school, she worked with several tribes and clerked for the Northwest Intertribal Court System.

Eberhard brings considerable experience to the law school. He has been engaged in the practice of Indian law since 1973, including employment in legal services on the Navajo, Hopi and White Mountain Apache reservations; as Deputy Attorney General of the Navajo Nation and Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office, Staff Director and General Counsel to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and Legislative Counsel to Senator McCain. From 1995 to 2009 he was a partner in the Indian Law Practice Group in the Seattle office of Dorsey and Whitney LLP.

His practice has involved the representation of Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and entities doing business with Indian tribes in federal, state and tribal judicial, legislative and administrative forums in regard to fee-to-trust transfers, water rights, leasing of natural resources, federal contracting, gaming, federal recognition, the formation of tribal corporations, environmental law, administrative law, jurisdiction, the development of tribal law, self-governance, cultural resource protection and the federal trust responsibility.

He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Morris K. Udall Foundation. He serves as the Vice-Chairman of the Native American Concerns Subcommittee of the American Bar Association's Committee on Individual Rights and Responsibilities and is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

Eberhard also will help with recruiting Native American law students. He has close ties to many tribes and knows there are worthy students who can serve their tribes as attorneys. Native Americans have one of the smallest bars in the country. To further address this, the law school established a full-tuition scholarship for an enrolled tribal member.

He joins Nash, who is a nationally recognized expert in Indian law and estate planning. A member of the Nez Perce Tribe, he has practiced Indian law for more than 34 years in numerous capacities, including 14 years in private practice in a solo practice and as head of the Indian Law Practice Group with the Holland & Hart law firm. He was Chief Counsel for the Nez Perce Tribe for 10 years and was a professor of law at the University of Idaho College of Law.

Burke is a graduate of the law school who teaches an Indian Estate Planning Clinical Course, the first established nation wide, and is the author of Indian will and estate planning articles, documents, templates and charts illustrating intestate and testate succession. She provides estate planning training to Legal Services attorneys, the private bar nationwide as well as tribal and federal officials and Indian land owners.

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