MSU College of Law

Indian Law Clinic

The Indian Law Clinic represents the interests of tribes and tribal organizations. The Clinic has two areas of focus—the Tribal Governance Project and the ICWA Appellate Project. Both projects are committed to working with tribes to support tribal self-governance and nation building.

Supporting and promoting tribal self-governance requires a thorough understanding of the tribal court systems and the relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government. Students in the Indian Law Clinic receive education in both areas through their projects with tribes and assigned reading.

The ICWA Defense Project, funded primarily by Casey Family Programs, is a founding member of the ICWA Defense Project, a coalition of national groups committed to the defense and preservation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) to stop the wholesale removal of American Indian and Alaskan Native children from their families. Despite ICWA, Native children today are still 2.5 times more likely to end up in foster care than other populations. We’re at the forefront of the fight to keep Native children with their families and tribes.

We receive questions about tribal governance and ICWA every week from tribes, state courts, and other national organizations. Our students provide answers through research and brief drafting under faculty supervision.

Our clinic operates like a boutique Indian law firm, leading to a strong research and writing focus in our work. Students receive one-on-one feedback from clinical faculty members, who are national experts in indigenous law. It’s a unique opportunity for students to work closely with leading scholars.

Because each case is unique and complex, our students develop a deep knowledge of Indian Law subject matter. There’s a strong academic component to clinical work, and students are expected to prepare thoroughly by completing all assigned readings.

Indian Law Clinic students can:

  • Conduct legal research
  • Work directly with tribal attorneys
  • Draft appellate briefs
  • Draft tribal bench briefs and opinions
  • Develop policy papers for tribal governments and organizations

Our clients are American Indian tribes from all over the United States. As independent nations, American Indian tribes have the right to self-govern, adjudicate legal cases, levy taxes within their borders, establish their own citizenship requirements, and decide their own futures.

By supporting and defending these rights, we make a difference in the lives of indigenous people across the country.