Mission and Clients
The American Indian Law Clinic, established in 1992 as one of the first of its kind, provides quality legal representation to low-income clients with specific Indian law related problems. Many in the Denver region have limited access to legal assistance and that access is further restricted when the issue involves Indian law. They have nowhere to turn when certain rights, some guaranteed by treaty, are denied. The Clinic’s student attorneys provide hundreds of hours of pro bono legal work to assist these people with direct legal assistance when possible, or by acting as a referral source when unable to help directly.
During this yearlong course, students receive classroom instruction and hands-on experience regarding Indian law issues, focused primarily on Colorado cases and projects that have a uniquely Indian law dimension. “Uniquely Indian law” issues are addressed by that body of law that concerns the status of Indian tribes and regulates the legal relationship between them, the federal government, the states and their citizens—commonly known as federal Indian law. All cases accepted and projects undertaken by the Clinic involve issues of federal Indian law or the law of a particular tribe. Student attorneys handle cases under the supervision of a licensed attorney, the American Indian Law Clinic Director.
Type of Legal Assistance
Colorado Law students provide valuable legal advocacy research, writing, and education to individuals, the tribal courts, and tribal communities.
- Tribal sovereignty
- Preservation of tribal identity (including matters governed by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act "ICWA")
- Discrimination in employment, housing, or public benefits
- Preservation of Native lands
- Religious freedom
- Tribal court support
- Tribal governance enhancement, including drafting of legislative codes and regulations
- Cases generally not handled by the Clinic: criminal (including post-conviction review), traffic citations, those that would provide a fee to a private attorney (such as personal injury or workers' compensation claims), and non-Indian or non-tribal law issues.
The American Indian Law Clinic seeks out opportunities to expand its legal services to the Native American community in critical areas. In addition to the representation of Native Americans and tribes, the Clinic has undertaken the following projects:
- American Indian Community Legal Education Outreach Projects: The American Indian Law Clerk engages in annual outreach projects that provide legal education on cutting-edge topics of federal Indian law to tribal communities and to Colorado’s Native population. These projects provide a unique learning opportunity for the student attorneys as they travel to different Indian communities to provide this important information. Recent community education topics have included:
- The first Colorado Tribal-State Judicial Seminar, “Improving Implementation of Federal Full Faith and Credit Mandates”
- Colorado Indian Community Law Day with the theme “Legal Issues Affecting Native American Children”
- Workshops for the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribal communities on the impact of the American Indian Probate Reform Act on tribal member land interests
- A training for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe on how to improve the outcome of child welfare cases in Colorado courts involving tribal member children.
- Family Preservation Project: Under its Family Preservation Project, the American Indian Law Clinic works with the Denver Indian Family Resource Center to help maintain and strengthen the Indian family unit in the Denver metropolitan area. The Clinic delivers legal assistance to Indian individuals on family law, employment, and civil rights issues. The Clinic is especially active and successful in ensuring compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which among other things, helps ensure that Indian children are placed with extended family members or with other Indian families.
- Prison/Religious Freedom Project: Since 1992, in conjunction with the Native American Law Students Association, the Clinic's Prison/Religious Freedom Project has been active in advocating for improved access for Colorado's Native inmates to their traditional religious traditions, customs, and ceremonies while incarcerated in federal correctional and state penal facilities. The Project works to address the religious observance needs of hundreds of Indian inmates while providing a valuable service to correctional facilities as well. By helping defuse tensions and hostilities, a more favorable climate for rehabilitation is created within the prisons.
- Tatanka Legal Times: The Tatanka Legal Times is the annual newsletter of the American Indian Law Clinic. The newsletter reports on the progress of the various Clinic-sponsored programs, casework, funding news, alumni activities, and Clinic students and their experiences. Clinic students draft the entire newsletter. To be added to our mailing list, contact us.
Tatanka Legal Times, Spring 2012