Published: March 28, 2006

The University of Colorado at Boulder School of Law will offer two free legal education workshops to explain the impact of the American Indian Probate Reform Act, which goes into effect in April.

Titled "What Will Happen to Your Land When You Pass On? What the New American Indian Probate Reform Act Means to You," the workshops will be held April 7 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Rolling Thunder Hall at the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio in southwest Colorado and April 22 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Denver Indian Center, 4407 Morrison Road.

Jill E. Tompkins, clinical law professor and director of CU-Boulder's American Indian Law Clinic, said the workshops will cover topics ranging from the history of the reform act to legal assistance for writing wills, locating tribal land interests and determining individual land shares.

"The workshops are aimed at assisting individual tribal members in handling their land interests," said Tompkins. "We encourage them to come and learn about what happens to their land if they do not have a will or an estate plan."

Passed by Congress in 2004, the reform act is designed to stop the division of tribal land that began with the General Allotment Act of 1887, Tompkins said. Under the 1887 act, common American Indian lands were divided up into small tracts to be held in trust by the United States for individual American Indian owners, she said.

The tracts could be inherited under tribal or state law but a lack of access to lawyers, cultural barriers and other factors made American Indian wills uncommon and splintered ownership into tracts with hundreds of owners that are of little use to the owners or the tribes, she said. The new act will assist tribal governments and individual American Indians in consolidating land ownership and restoring economic viability to American Indian assets, Tompkins said.

The workshops are presented by the CU-Boulder law clinic and funded in part by a $4,000 grant from the Colorado Bar Association. The Southern Ute Tribal Court is a co-sponsor of the Ignacio workshop. Continuing legal education credits are available.

The grant also will pay for videotaping the workshops for broadcast on public television and the publication of a guide to understanding the new law that will be distributed statewide.

For more information contact the CU-Boulder American Indian Law Clinic at (303) 492-0966.