Indigenous Law Center Launches with Panel on COVID-19

UC Law SF’s Indigenous Law Center kicks off its important work Feb. 10 with a panel discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on Native American and Indigenous communities. The panel features leading figures including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

The center was established in September 2020 to celebrate, study, and better understand the many histories, identities, and contributions of Native and Indigenous nations, communities, and individuals in law and beyond.

Chancellor and Dean David Faigman described the center as “an extraordinary addition to our program.” He added: “Its launch marks a historic moment for the school. The center will help open our eyes to past injustices, be the home for exciting and constructive partnerships, and establish new avenues for future opportunities. I couldn’t be more proud, or more excited, to welcome, and be part of, this marvelous new center.”

The idea for the center, along with related initiatives, has been long in the making. But the idea for a public memorial to the Yuki people stemmed in part from student interest in learning about and acknowledging injustices against Native American people, said Faculty Director Jo Carrillo.

“We have a very diverse student body,” Carrillo said. “They’re interested and want to know about the complexities of the past and how to move toward a more just future.”

Carrillo had taken the students in her Federal Indian Law class to see the San Francisco Arts Commission exhibit “Continuous Thread,” which featured photographs taken by four Native American photographers of individuals and groups of Native American and Indigenous peoples.  The photos depicted people from a wide array of backgrounds and ages. Among them were three who were young children when removed forcibly from Yosemite when the national park was established.

The backdrop for the portraits was deliberately meaningful — an empty plinth that until recently held a statue of a conquistador on horseback about to strike an Indigenous man. The “Early Days” statue was removed from behind the San Francisco Public Library in 2018.

The students invited Dean Faigman and other senior administrators to the stereotype-busting art installation. Faigman embraced the ideas of dedicating a public memorial and creating a law center as two of 11 initiatives for reconciliation and partnership to emerge from three years of study by the Hastings Legacy Review Committee.

“The path forward outlined here permits the College to confront its past and pursue a future that is consistent with our mission and ideals of public service,” Faigman wrote in a September 2020 report.

Carrillo is forming a 10-member advisory committee—comprised of people from the UC Law SF and Indigenous communities—to help oversee the center, which has already received generous support from alumni.

The center’s program is expected to feature:

  • A visiting professor who will teach a seminar and give public lectures. Matthew Fletcher will serve in this capacity during the 2021-2022 academic year, teaching a seminar on Tribal Law. His credentials include being a visiting professor at the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, the University of Michigan Law School, the University of Montana Blewett School of Law, and Stanford Law School. He also is the Chief Justice of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Supreme Court and an appellate judge for the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, and the Tulalip Tribes.
  • An annual public policy lecture series featuring new voices from fields such as higher education and federal, state, and tribal government.
  • An affiliated scholars’ program, which will be awarded to emerging scholars in the field. Not limited to the law, the program will seek applications of those interested in university teaching.
  • Enhanced curriculum aimed at providing a forum for restorative justice. Ideas for this include a public class featuring a series of guest speakers addressing heartfelt issues of importance to a restorative justice path forward.
  • Panels, such as Wednesday’s inaugural event, which is being co-sponsored by the UCSF-UC Law SF Consortium on Law, Science and Health Policy.

Visiting Professor Matthew Fletcher

The Feb. 10 panel features Nez who, as president of the largest Native American reservation in the United States, has worked to draw national attention to the challenges Indigenous nations and communities have faced in dealing with COVID-19. Other participants include Agnes Attaki, Director of Health Disparities Outreach & Prevention Education at the University of Arizona College of Medicine; Notah Begay III, founder of the NB3 Foundation, four-time PGA tour winner, member of the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame, and a golf analyst for NBC Sports who has also brought the issue to national attention; Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Professor of Law & Director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law, and the center’s inaugural Visiting Professor of Law; and Sriram Shamasunder, Associate Professor of Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine, who has provided clinical assistance to the Navajo Nation during the pandemic.