Indian law partnership
In October, Harvard Law School restated its commitment to the development of the study of American Indian law upon receiving the final installment in the endowment of the Oneida Indian Professorship of Law. The chair, established in 2003, is the first endowed chair in American Indian studies at Harvard, and the only professorship of its kind east of the Mississippi. This endeavor directly addresses the void that exists within the study and application of Indian law, and stresses the consequence of understanding its fundamental principles. When one ponders the fact that six of the eight sitting justices (nine, if you count retired Justice Sandra Day OíConnor) earned law degrees at Harvard, it is clear that the endowment seeks to tackle the problem at its root. Crushing Supreme Court losses last year in Haudenosaunee land claim cases remind us that justice in Indian country hangs precariously in the balance. Indian sovereignty finds itself again in the familiar crosshairs of the nationís highest ruling body. Chief Justice John Roberts, on his first day, heard arguments in Wagnon v. Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. He later joined Justice Clarence Thomas in reversing the decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously ruled in the tribeís favor. The court gave the state of Kansas the right to tax the fuel, ignoring the Potawatomisí interest in relying on its own tribal tax for economic development. The tribeís appeal was recently dismissed. This direct blow to tribal sovereignty does not surprise us. There is a fundamental lack of understanding of the principles of Indian law, and this problem reaches all the way to the hallowed Supreme Court. An education-based initiative may take time, but time may be all that tribes are left with if we do not seek change today.