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January 27, 2003

Harvard to study laws of American Indian tribes

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A $3 million gift from the Oneida Indian Nation will establish a professorship at Harvard Law School to focus on the legal issues facing American Indians, school and tribal officials announced yesterday.

The Oneida Indian Nation Professorship of Law is the first endowed chair in American Indian studies at Harvard University and the only professorship of its kind east of the Mississippi River, officials said.

“We are confident that the kind of scholarship for which the law school is known worldwide will help create a better understanding of the complex legal issues faced by all American Indians today and in the future,” said Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, a 1990 graduate of the law school.

At first, the gift will pay for several scholars who will teach at the law school. Eventually, the school must identify candidates and then fill the teaching position with a tenured professor.

“For too long, American Indian law has been marginalized in legal education,” said Dean Robert C. Clark. “I hope the establishment of this professorship will send a strong signal that the study of American Indian legal systems should be a vital area of scholarship at American law schools.”

Issues facing American Indians today range from legal and political issues between the U.S. government and Indian tribes, Clark said.

Tribal treaty and property rights, congressional plenary power in Indian affairs, the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes, the scope of tribal sovereignty and self-governing powers on the reservation, jurisdictional conflicts in Indian Country, and tribal government and tribal courts are examples of some of the topics in American Indian law scholarship, Clark said.

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Ed Hayward writes for the The Boston Herald


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