Law School's Indigenous Rights Conference Brings Prospective Students to Cambridge

Current and prospective students, activists, and legal experts explored how legal strategy and international human rights advocacy influences indigenous rights in the U.S. at Harvard Law School’s Indigenous Rights Movement conference last week.

Kristen A. Carpenter, an Oneida Indian Nation Visiting Professor of Law at HLS, said the conference sought to give students access to conversations on federal Indian law, a subject for which Harvard has no permanent professor.

“It seems important to really do a lot of programming when we’re lucky enough to be here teaching for a short time, and really make an impact on the community and the students’ educational opportunities, as well as to note particularly what’s going on in the present moment of advocacy around American Indian issues,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter co-chaired the event with Robert T. Anderson, another Oneida Indian Nation Visiting Professor of Law; Angela R. Riley, law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles; and Lorie M. Graham, law professor at Suffolk University Law School.

The conference’s programming focused on several issues in current indigenous rights advocacy, including indigenous peoples’ government institutions and how they fit in the U.S. constitutional framework.

“Some of the signal features in this particular moment include… a real revitalization of tribes’ own institutions of government, their culture, their economies, and the ways in which federal Indian law is being shaped by, and advancing, with the benefit of tribal and international advocacy,” Carpenter said.

The conference also served as a recruitment opportunity for a number of prospective Law School students. The Harvard University Native American Program provided partial or full sponsorship for students to attend the conference through an application process.

Kyle Ranieri, a student at Yale College who attended through HUNAP’s program, said he appreciated the opportunity for students to explore both Law School admissions and specific curriculum interests.

“We’re interested in learning more about Harvard Law School and what they have to offer generally as a law program, but also more specifically in terms of their Indian law offerings,” Ranieri said.

Sean Massa, a student at Yale Divinity School, said he was particularly interested in the aspects of the conference that discussed international perspectives on indigenous rights.

“For me, I’ve been particularly interested in how indigenous peoples kind of negotiate and advocate within international forums,” Massa said.

Carpenter said student involvement, including remarks from the co-presidents of the Law School’s Native American Law Students Association, was central to the conference’s success.

“While we have a lot of very famous leaders in Indian country here, we are also pretty deeply inspired by the students and their future,” Carpenter said.

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