American Indian Law Program
Opens at MSU College of Law
EAST LANSING, Mich., August 9, 2004 - Michigan State University College of Law is
launching the most comprehensive American Indian Law Program in the
MSU will offer one of only two formal programs east of the Mississippi
River and one of the most comprehensive programs in the nation among
American Bar Association accredited law schools. The program will assist
tribal governments with their policy-making objectives, including
conducting research to create, implement and enhance their legal
infrastructures, on a regional, national and international level.
Professor Donald "Del" Laverdure, an expert in the taxation of
indigenous peoples and tribal court systems and an enrolled citizen of
the Crow Nation, directs the MSU program. He currently serves as chief
justice of the Crow Nation and as appellate judge for the Keweenaw Bay
MSU's program will offer students the ability to develop a special
expertise in indigenous law, policy and practice, with both theoretical
and practical learning components provided by an Indigenous Law Clinic
and several elective courses. The program will also sponsor timely
symposia, including an Oct. 29 conference on tribal constitutions.
"Michigan State University is ideally situated for this new program. MSU
is a leading research institution in the country with an extensive
American Indian Studies Program," Laverdure said. "Moreover, there are
12 federally recognized tribal governments in Michigan.
"Increasingly, lawyers and judges run into questions of Indian law such
as gaming, child welfare, zoning, water rights, criminal jurisdiction
and taxation of gas and cigarettes. It will become more difficult to
practice law in Michigan without understanding the basics of Indian law,
including the concept of tribal sovereignty."
Laverdure is joined by Kristen Burge, an adjunct professor and staff
attorney for the Indigenous Law Clinic. Prior to her arrival at MSU,
Burge clerked for Justice William Bablitch at the Wisconsin Supreme
"With 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States, 12 of which
are in Michigan, and still more petitioning for recognition, the need
for lawyers educated in American Indian law is critical," Burge said.
Statistically, a rather small percentage of attorneys practice in the
field of Indian law and even fewer lawyers are American Indian - less
than one-fifth of 1 percent of all lawyers in the United States.
"The hands-on, practical experience gained from participating in the
clinic provides students with the expertise and competency necessary to
successfully identify and address Indian law issues," said Terence
Blackburn, dean of the MSU College of Law. "In addition to serving the
indigenous community, this program provides our students with a valuable
learning experience and marketable skills that may one day be utilized
to practice Indian law for the betterment of indigenous nations."
MSU College of Law was founded as the Detroit College of Law in 1891. To
extend its commitment to educational excellence, the college affiliated
with MSU in 1995 and moved to MSU's East Lansing campus in 1997. The
move enabled the law college to build state-of-the-art facilities and to
provide the benefits of a Big Ten campus.
MSU College of Law strengthened its affiliation with Michigan State
University this year, becoming more closely aligned academically. The
association between the two schools has led to a comprehensive
interdisciplinary legal education program at the law college. Today, the
college remains the nation's oldest continually operating independent
law school and one of only two private law schools to be affiliated with
a world-renowned research university.