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Friday, April 8, 2022

Project engages federal Indian law to protect tribal self-determination

Maggie Blackhawk
Maggie Blackhawk

After the American Indian Sovereignty Project was established last summer, its leaders knew that they would be busy with scholarly engagements in contemporary issues in federal Indian law. But the group, a collaboration between Yale and New York University (NYU), had little idea how quickly they would become immersed in a series of immediate court challenges at the highest level.

In February, the project had one of its most visible moments to date when U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer cited during oral arguments an amicus brief filed by the project’s team in the case Denezpi v. United States.

A joint initiative of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and the NYU School of Law, the Sovereignty Project brings together scholars, law students, graduate students, and a select number of undergraduates to study, research, and engage American Indian law and policy. The brief cited by Breyer is the second of three the project’s team has written for the high court, and the justice’s reference was an important recognition: It highlighted the impact their work can have in helping to elucidate federal Indian law and policy and in advocating more broadly for Native American tribal sovereignty, according to Ned Blackhawk (Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada), the Howard R. Lamar Professor of History and of American Studies at Yale.

He and Maggie Blackhawk (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe), professor of law at New York University, co-founded the Sovereignty Project partly with the mission of providing support to Native tribes in legal cases involving Indian Country. The project, he said, also aims “to build an intellectual research community oriented around questions of American Indian legal concern as well as educational awareness about pressing contemporary tribal issues.”

In the six months since the Sovereignty Project was established, it has already been “flooded” with requests from the Tribal Supreme Court Project for assistance on federal court cases, according to Maggie Blackhawk.



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