Fact or Fiction: National Museum of the American Indian Hosts Law Symposium

Scholars to Discuss How U.S. History Has Shaped Native American Jurisprudence
September 21, 2011
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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian hosts “Fact or Fiction? The United States Courts’ Use of History to Shape Native Law Jurisprudence,” a symposium Friday, Oct. 7, from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the museum’s Rasmuson Theater.

Since the first court decision to articulate Native American law back in 1823, the nation’s courts have repeatedly invoked historical “facts” as a basis for writing judicial doctrines that have been prejudicial and harmful to Native Americans. This symposium will investigate and uncover factual inaccuracies that still permeate law today, such as the idea that Native Americans did not farm or cultivate any land before the arrival of Europeans, the idea that Native Americans have no systems of self-government comparable to the one found in the U.S. Constitution or the idea that during the 19th century all Native nations were engaged in warfare against the U.S. A thorough review reveals that many of the modern Native law doctrines are based in fiction, not fact. Speakers include Stuart Banner, UCLA School of Law; Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Crowe & Dunlevy, Oklahoma; Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee), Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, New York; and Lindsay Robertson, University of Oklahoma College of Law. Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the museum, will moderate.

About the Panelists

A graduate of Stanford Law School, Banner joined the UCLA Law faculty in 2001. His books include American Property: A History of How, Why, and What We Own (Harvard University Press, 2011), Possessing the Pacific: Land, Settlers, and Indigenous People from Australia to Alaska (Harvard University Press, 2007) and How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier (Harvard University Press, 2005). He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Fulbright Scholar Program and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Echo-Hawk is a Native American attorney, tribal judge, author, activist and law professor. He represents Indian tribes on important legal issues, such as treaty rights, water rights, religious freedom, prisoner rights and repatriation rights. As a Native American rights attorney since 1973, Echo-Hawk worked at the epicenter of a great social movement alongside visionary tribal leaders, visited tribes in indigenous habitats throughout North America and was instrumental in the passage of landmark laws—such as, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments (1994). He has written extensively about Indian Country, most recently in his new book, In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided.

An actress, playwright and lawyer, Nagle graduated summa cum laude from Tulane Law School, where she received the Judge John Minor Wisdom award for legal research and writing. As a descendant of John Ridge of the Cherokee Nation, one of the first Native attorneys in the history of the U.S., Nagle has a passion for Native law and Native issues. Her article, Standing Bear v. Cook: The Case for Equality Under Waaxe’s Law, will be published in the November edition of the Creighton Law Review, and she has also written Waaxe’s Law, a play that was performed at the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska May 12, 2009, in celebration of the 130th anniversary of the trial of Chief Standing Bear.

Robertson joined the law faculty of the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1998. Before that, he taught Federal Indian Law at the University of Virginia School of Law and the George Washington University National Law Center. He was a Research and Visiting Fellow at the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies from 1992 to 1994. He currently serves as Special Justice on the Supreme Court of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes. In 2005, he published his first book, Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Before becoming the director of the museum in 2007, Gover practiced law in Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque, N.M., for more than 15 years, representing Indian tribes and tribal agencies. In 1997, he was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, a position he held until 2001. In 2003, he joined the faculty at the College of Law at Arizona State University, his alma mater. He has received numerous awards for his work with Native American communities and institutions, including the Alumni Medal from St. Paul’s School in 2008, an honorary Juris Doctorate from Princeton University in 2001 and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1999. In February 2011, he received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.

The symposium will be webcast live at www.AmericanIndian.si.edu/webcasts. A book signing in the theater lobby and a reception in the Potomac Atrium will follow.

The symposium is co-sponsored by the National Native American Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association Indian Law Section and presented in conjunction with We Are a People: The Ponca Journey, a two-day festival celebrating the history and culture of the Ponca Nation of Nebraska Oct. 7-8.

For more information on the symposium, visit www.AmericanIndian.si.edu/symposia.

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