(SPOKANE, Wash.) – Not so long ago, American Indian tribes from throughout the region met regularly along the north bank of the Spokane River where the Gonzaga University School of Law now sits. Little wonder then that the Law School site and a spot near the Spokane Falls a mile west along the serpentine river remain places of great cultural and historical significance for American Indians. Fittingly, the Gonzaga Law School has launched its new Federal Indian Law Program, which aims to nurture the development of Gonzaga Law School students, American Indian governments, and Alaska Native regional corporations and native villages, all for the benefit of American Indian people and Alaska natives, Law School Dean Earl Martin said today.
Gonzaga University School of Law
For students, the program will focus on providing a theoretical and practical education that will equip graduates with the knowledge and skills in federal Indian law necessary to become highly effective attorneys. For American Indian governments, Alaska Native regional corporations and native villages, the program will focus on the analysis and development of tribal public policy as it impacts the economic, judicial, health-care, natural resources, environmental, and educational needs of indigenous people. The program also will focus on developing policies that will reflect the rule of tribal law and foster government that promotes justice for tribal members by strengthening the long-term vitality of Indian government within the American political system.
(Photo: Jennifer Raudebaugh)
The initiative, identified through the school’s strategic planning exercises in 2006 and 2007, will continue Gonzaga’s historic mission by offering education to benefit American Indians, American Indian tribes, Alaska natives, and non-Indians interested in the needs of American Indian and indigenous communities.
The Federal Indian Law Program will be directed by Professor Joshua Jay Kanassatega who came to Gonzaga in October 2008. Kanassatega practiced law as an associate and shareholder at Leonard, Street and Deinard in Minneapolis for the previous 18 years. His legal experience focused on commercial litigation, where he represented clients in governmental, regulatory and parallel proceedings. Kanassatega also has extensive experience counseling clients regarding their commercial transactions with American Indian tribes, agencies and tribally controlled community colleges.
The program began its first phase in June 2008 with the launch of the Federal Indian Law Clinic at University Legal Assistance. This clinic, created in partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, gives law students the opportunity to enhance their education by representing members of the Kalispel Tribe in civil and criminal matters within the Kalispel and Washington state courts.
The second phase of the program is set to begin next month with creation of a public policy institute known as the Institute for Development of Economic Policy for Indigenous People. This Institute will develop policies to advance principles of economic self-determination for indigenous people. Among its first efforts, the Institute will begin a three-year demonstration project in September, focused on development of economic policies and laws by the appropriate tribal and/or state government entities.
Participants are expected to represent four to five American Indian tribes and two Alaska Native regional corporations and associated villages.
Further phases of the Indian Law Program will include curriculum development, continued education programs and enhancement of the school’s efforts to recruit American Indian and Native Alaskan students. The program will be assisted by an advisory board comprised of representatives from 10 Inland Northwest tribes, geographically located in four states:
- Washington: Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Kalispel Tribe of Indians and Spokane Tribe of Indians;
- Idaho: Coeur d’Alene Tribes, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and Nez Perce Tribe;
- Oregon: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs;
- Montana: Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
On Feb. 26-27, the Gonzaga Law School will host the Colville Court of Appeals, the constitutional appellate court of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which will hear oral arguments of counsel in the Law School’s Barbieri Courtroom.
The arguments of counsel are expected to focus on interpreting a Colville statute and constitutional rights of defendants.
For more information, contact Professor Kanassatega at (509) 313-5791.