Pursglove: Is Indigenous Law a good field for law students?
Fletcher: For many Native students, Indian law is the reason they chose law school. Few other students have a chance to take classes where the history of their tribes and families is embedded in the cases and statutes we teach. For any student, it’s a good field, too. Indian gaming is a $30 billion a year business. Indian country natural resources extraction is probably even larger than that, or soon will be. Tribal governments routinely are the largest employers of their regional economies. We never have much trouble placing our alums in Indian law jobs if they want to do that work. It’s a hugely growing field.
Pursglove: Why are attorneys that understand Native American culture, and how it impacts legal issues, in high demand?
Fletcher: Tribal government and enterprise clients usually are American Indian people, and they want to hear the views and advice of people who have shared many of their same experiences. Also, the tribal client differs from the fundamental goals of corporate and state or federal governmental clients. Tribes are not wealth-maximizing entities with pressures from shareholders to prioritize profit; tribes may pass up opportunities for revenues because of the social or environmental costs. And tribes are governments, so their goals are similar to those of other governments, to maximize governmental revenue and services. But tribal governmental constituencies are more narrow than other governmental constituencies. In other words, there is no Citizens United-inspired relationship between tribes and business entities, and no Tea Party-inspired efforts to gut government services. And tribes must do all of this without a tax base similar to that enjoyed by states and the federal government.
Pursglove: What were the main issues in this field in the past year?
Fletcher: The main issues always involve tribal efforts to expand their governmental revenue. This past year saw the beginnings of a backlash against tribal efforts to engage in what they’re calling e-commerce, which includes things like payday lending, internet gaming, and other electronic business activities. Tribes usually try to avoid state regulation by asserting their immunity from state authority, and the Supreme Court decided a case affirming tribal immunity this year captioned Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community.