Arizona State University’s Indian Legal Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The program was established in 1988 to provide legal education, scholarship in the area of Indian law and public service to tribal governments. Regents’ Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Indian Legal Program Rebecca Tsosie, and Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community President Diane Enos, an Indian Legal Program alumna, will talk about the program and its impact on both tribes in Arizona and the state as a whole.
Ted Simons: Arizona State University's Indian Legal Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The program was established to provide legal education in scholarship in the area of Indian law, along with public service to tribal governments. Joining us tonight is Rebecca Tsosie, Regents' Professor of law and executive director of the Indian Legal Program, and Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community President Diane Enos, a graduate of the Indian Legal Program. Good to have you both here and thank you very much for joining us.
Ted Simons: 25 years now, let's talk about right now, the Indian Legal Program. What is the focus of the program?
Rebecca Tsosie: The focus of our program is on educating all the students at Arizona State University, and all of the students throughout the nation, really, on the importance of Indian law as a subject to study in law school. It's vitally important in Arizona because, obviously, we have many tribal nations here in the state and over a quarter of the land, I believe, within the boundaries of Arizona is tribal land. I am so honored that President Enos could join us tonight.
Ted Simons: Indeed. And as far as what the program trains students to do, is it a variety of things? Is it focused on legal issues? What, what happens here?
Rebecca Tsosie: Well, Federal Indian law is a very specialized subject because we deal with sovereign nations that also have their own tribal law system, so we teach the Federal law that governs the relationship, as well as the tribal law systems that are represented in Arizona tribal courts. And we also talk about the legislation that affects the government to government relationship, and we have a clinic that trains students to represent tribal clients, both in tribal courts and also administrative and Federal processes.
Ted Simons: And the difference between the legal systems, that's a biggy, isn't it?
Diane Enos: It certainly is, but I wanted to add also to what the professor said, if you are a student at the Arizona State University college of law, and you are going to be an attorney, you learn everything that everybody else does. There is not a segregated curriculum per se. So, when I went there, I had the option to take Indian law courses, and I took some other courses that, specifically, relate to Indian law, but we go through the same thing, as everybody else. And we have to take the same law school exams, we have to take the same basic courses, contracts, constitutional law, and those things. So we're not exempt from anything.
Ted Simons: Oh, no. And I don't think that anyone would think that you would be, and I would think that they would say you have got some other issues here, as well, that you really need to be on top of.
Diane Enos: Absolutely. That's true.
Ted Simons: And what are some of those issues?
Diane Enos: Well, for tribal Government, you have courts, tribal courts, the professor referred to that because we have our own legal systems. We are sovereigns. Of course, the Supreme Court says that we're dependent, domestic nations so we have differences of opinion there. But with the sovereignty that we have, we have to protect it. And everything that we do as tribes is geared towards being aware of what those threats to our sovereignty are. And in setting up our court system and setting up all the programs, and protecting our territories, that's something that we have to keep in mind constantly.
Ted Simons: Is that an ever changing kind of a situation? Or are some of these issues pretty strong year after year?
Rebecca Tsosie: In Arizona, because of the nature of tribal land bases here, the Arizona issues are ongoing. And the economic development on the reservations, of course, right now, is at its height. So, the issues about how you do business on the reservation, about sovereign immunity, about resources and the use of resources, zoning that might apply on the reservation is very different than off the reservation. And so, there are a number of inter-jurisdictional issues that we work with in this state.
Ted Simons: As far as the students. Describe the students. Where they come from and what they are looking to do and what they are looking to be.
Rebecca Tsosie: I love our students. We just celebrated our 25th anniversary, and the room was filled with our alums. We have over 250 alums in the Indian Legal Program. Most are native. We are open in terms of the offerings, our class offerings to native and non-native students, but, they are from Indian nations all over the country, and even all over the world, really. We have had students come to us from Canada and from New Zealand, from other areas, and they bring a wonderful, cultural mix of views about indigenous identity and rights. I love working with them, and they are spectacular students.
Ted Simons: It certainly sounds like it. We have a former student right here, and I want to ask you, when you went into the program, what were you looking for? When you graduated from the program, did you find what you were looking for?
Diane Enos: When I went through the program, I didn't know what was coming. I didn't know what to expect. And I really just wanted to be a lawyer. But, I also knew that whatever I did, I was going to work with my community, and serve my community, which is Salt River, so I went into law school, totally unprepared for the shock of it. Your books are that thick. I walked home after class, and carrying all these heavy textbooks, really, and it consumes you. Your life is consumed for three years, totally. And then after that, there is the bar exam. Your life is consumed for months. You do nothing but study at home and study at the library and live in a cocoon so you can pass the bar.
Ted Simons: But once you pass the bar, you have the degree and the ability to practice here. Because of the Indian Legal Program, did you see opportunity where there may not have been opportunity before?
Diane Enos: I was an elected official of my community, so I couldn't work for my community. But, being an elected official, I was able to understand some of the issues that came our way in the legal realm. I worked for the county for several years after I left a small boutique law firm. And did some immigration law first. Did some contracts, some basic criminal law. And then I went to the public defender's office where I was there for about more than 11 years and got a lot of tremendous practice. All the while being an elected official, and the more information, the more practice you get in the field of law, the more you understand. Someone said, I think it was Justice Frankfurter, the law is a seamless web. Professor Bender said that to me the first week that I was in law school, and I always remembered it. The law touches everything.
Ted Simons: Yes. So students, we talked about the students before, and how -- they are from all over and they come in with so many ideas. When they leave, what do you find that they want to do most?
Rebecca Tsosie: Most of our students want to practice in some area that relates to Federal law and policy or tribal law. So the majority of our students will go to work either for the tribal governments, for the Federal government, or even the state governments working in law and policy positions where they can, they can undertake advocacy on important Federal Indian law and policy and tribal law issues.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, what kind of partnerships are you seeing now with, with the native governments and native organizations?
Rebecca Tsosie: The Indian Legal Program had a three-part mission when it was established, so in addition to educating students, outreach to tribal communities was a very important part of the mission. And we have been really fortunate in this state to have the support, for example, of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian community, of Gila river, Fort McDowell, Ak-Chin, the Navajo Nation, we have partnerships with all of them that support our students, and also, the development of the infrastructure through conferences, and externship placements for the students, and a variety of activities, so we work very closely with the tribal nations here.
Ted Simons: Specifically your nation, what relationship do you have, and do you watch the kids come out?
Diane Enos: We have internships, we work with the law school clinic and do some practice in tribal courts, and I think right now, we have got probably over 19 alumni working for my community in lots of areas. Prosecutors. Defense, Oh, gosh, court solicitor, the family advocacy center. And the general counsel's office, just, just a whole lot of expertise coming out of the Indian Legal Program.
Ted Simons: Quickly, before we go, where does the Indian Legal Program go from here?
Rebecca Tsosie: I think the future is wide open. There are always issues about jurisdiction in the courts. But to me, the real importance is the sovereignty of the Indian nations, both as a political matter and as a cultural matter, and you see that synergy worldwide around indigenous rights.
Diane Enos: The threats continue, and they are going to get worse.
Ted Simons: Well, it's good to have you both here. And the success of the Indian Legal Program, congratulations on that and, and thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.
Diane Enos: Thank you.
Rebecca Tsosie:Professor of Law, Indian Legal Program;Diane Enos:President, Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community;