American Indian Law Clinic

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.

Scope      

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.    

Projects      

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