Published: March 6, 2019
Robert A. Williams Jr.

Robert A. Williams Jr., Regents' Professor, E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law and faculty co-chair of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, delivered the John R. Coen Lecture on March 15, 2019, at 11:30 a.m. in Wittemyer Courtroom at the University of Colorado Law School. He spoke on the topic "Why Do We Need a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?"

Drawing on historical and contemporary sources and legal texts and utilizing the tools of critical race theory and practice and Native storytelling traditions, Williams will answer the insistent question he has heard in talking with both Native and non-Native audiences around the world: Why do we need a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?



Watch the conference recording (Williams' lecture begins at 3:23:15)


This year's Coen Lecture was presented in partnership with the Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the United States conference, co-hosted by the American Indian Law Program at Colorado Law and the Native American Rights Fund. The conference aimed to advance the promises of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and develop a strategy for its implementation in the United States.

Williams (Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina) received his BA from Loyola College in 1977 and his JD from Harvard Law School in 1980. He is the author of The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest (1990), which received the Gustavus Meyers Human Rights Center Award as one of the outstanding books published in 1990 on the subject of prejudice in the United States. He has also written Linking Arms Together: American Indian Treaty Visions of Law and Peace, 1600-1800 (1997); Like a Loaded Weapon: The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights and the Legal History of Racism in America (2005); and Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization (Palgrave Macmillan 2012). He is co-author of Federal Indian Law: Cases and Materials (7th ed., with David Getches, Charles Wilkinson, Matthew Fletcher, and Kristen Carpenter, 2017). He received the Lawrence R. Baca Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Federal Indian Law in 2017 from the Federal Bar Association Indian Law Section. He was named the first Oneida Indian Nation Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School (2003-2004), having previously served there as Bennet Boskey Distinguished Visiting Lecturer of Law.

Williams has received major grants and awards from the Soros Senior Justice Fellowship Program of the Open Society Institute, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the National Institute of Justice. He has been interviewed by Bill Moyers and quoted on the front page of the New York Times. He has represented tribal groups and members before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, the United States Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court of Canada. Williams served as chief justice for the Court of Appeals, Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation, and as justice for the Court of Appeals and trial judge pro tem for the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The Coen lectureship was established in 1955 in memory of John Coen, a distinguished member of the Colorado bar and an able public speaker. The lectureship seeks to bring a prominent and distinguished lawyer, jurist, or scholar of law to deliver an annual lecture to Colorado Law’s students, faculty, and alumni on a legal subject of interest and benefit to the profession, preferably with some public or political aspect.