Visiting Prof. Ben Madley Explores History of California Indigenous Law

Benjamin Madley

Benjamin Madley is working on a major research collaboration this year in his role as the Indigenous Law Center’s Visiting Professor of Law.

UCLA History Professor Benjamin Madley has earned numerous awards and distinctions for his work detailing the history of government-sanctioned genocide and land seizures against Indigenous Californians.

At UC Law SF this year, he will embark on a new research project, with Indigenous Law Center (ILC) Faculty Director Jo Carrillo, to explore the laws, executive actions and court rulings that affect Native Americans in California.

“From the seizure of California Indian land and its cornucopia of natural resources by the federal government to the rise of the multibillion-dollar California gaming industry, such laws, executive actions, and judicial rulings have had massive impacts both on California Indian people and all of us in the state of California,” Madley said.

portrait of Jo Carrillo

Professor Jo Carrillo is Faculty Director of the Indigenous Law Center at UC Law SF.

This work will be undertaken in Madley’s role as the ILC’s Visiting Professor of Law for the 2023-2024 academic year. His visit was made possible by the work of Carrillo, Provost & Academic Dean Morris Ratner, and the generosity of alumni donor Joseph Cotchett ’64.

Carrillo, an expert in American Indian law and property law, said she invited Madley to work with the ILC toward its goal of framing redress for past harms to Indigenous peoples. She said the interdisciplinary project will bring vital perspectives to bear on a past era that repeatedly escapes the methodological strictures of traditional legal research.

“Professor Madley and I are both keen on the many interdisciplinary synergies that arise between historical and legal scholarship,” Carrillo said. “These synergies, we hope, will prove useful to conceptualizing and framing or reframing legal remedies.”

Carrillo and Madley will produce a book that looks at legal issues ranging from 19th-century immigration, labor, land, and fisheries laws to federal treaties with California Indians and California’s civil and criminal codes. The book will include essays from other interdisciplinary experts in the field with a collective goal of providing legal-historical knowledge for California Indigenous Peoples and their legal advocates.

Madley and Carrillo will discuss their preliminary research during a presentation on Indigenous People’s Day on Oct. 9. They will also co-organize a seminar series this spring featuring California Indian law experts, including legal practitioners and academics, from different fields and disciplines.

“Our seminar series will be one of the first of its kind in the sense that it will gather California experts on legal issues of importance to Indigenous peoples,” Madley said.

Madley emphasized that this research is critical as it may help future lawyers, judges, policymakers, academics, and others better understand an especially complicated area of U.S. law.

Madley won multiple awards and accolades for his 2016 book, “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873.” He plans to build on that work this year, writing a new article about California Indian law while simultaneously completing a book about Native American miners in the 19th-century California Gold Rush.

Morris Ratner is Provost and Academic Dean at UC Law San Francisco.

Educated at Yale and Oxford, Madley has written extensively on Native Americans and colonialism in Africa, Australia, and Europe, often applying a transnational and comparative approach. He has authored or co-authored 21 journal articles and book chapters, which have been featured in publications ranging from The American Historical Review and California History to The Journal of Genocide Research and European History Quarterly.

“The important project Professors Carrillo and Madley are doing together entails exactly the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration – here, between a law professor and a historian – that distinguishes UC Law SF,” Provost Ratner said. “It’s also an expression of Chancellor & Dean David Faigman’s concept of an ‘Academic Village’ that includes partnerships across the University of California system, which, in this case, involves embedding a UCLA historian in our law school community.”