Michigan law center receives national award


One legal institution has garnered national attention. 

The Indigenous Law and Policy Center (ILPC) at Michigan State University College of Law was recognized with the 2019 Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award in the “organization” category by the Society of American Law Teachers. The annual award celebration will be held Jan. 3 in Washington, D.C.

SALT recognizes the contributions of activists who promote social justice in the legal profession and throughout their lives. 

According to the SALT website, the Indigenous Law and Policy Center has had a major impact on Native justice by reaching across spaces and generations in Indian country. 

“The center provides legal services to tribes, educates students and others in the area of American Indian law, and recruits and supports Native students to the law school,” SALT stated. “The center supports the Indian Child Welfare Appellate Project, the only clinic of its kind, affording distinctive experiential opportunities to Native and non-Native students alike. The center also started Turtle Talk, the leading blog on Indian issues in the country, to provide access to legal and regulatory opinions in tribal cases and tribal matters without fees or other barriers.”

The center is led by Matthew L.M. Fletcher, a professor and director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center, and Kathryn Fort, director of the Indian Law Clinic and adjunct professor. 

Fletcher also sits as the chief justice of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Supreme Court and sits as an appellate judge for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska and the Tulalip Tribes.

Fort started the Indian Child Welfare Act Appellate Project in 2015, which assists tribes in the Indian Child Welfare Act. She is the author of “American Indian Children and the Law.”

Along with Fletcher and Fort, the center is staffed with a program coordinator and a staff attorney. MSU law students can earn three credits by taking the center’s course, which entails researching real-world Indian law issues. 

“Center students’ final work product is analyzed and used by tribal attorneys; tribal, federal, and state courts; and legislators,” the SALT website stated. “The course also provides a variety of occasions for law students to network with tribal court judges, public and private sector Indian lawyers, and legislative staff at all levels of government — opportunities critical to landing a job in Indian Country.”

The Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award was named after a CUNY Law School professor who dedicated her life to equality, equity and justice. She died at the age of 45 in a car accident in South Africa. 

The award is not given annually. It is only given when there is an exceptional person or institution whose struggle for human rights requires recognition from the community, according to the SALT website. 

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