$1.3M Grant to UCLA’s Tribal Legal Development Clinic to Benefit Tribes Nationwide 

Tribal communities nationwide turn to UCLA’s Tribal Legal Development Clinic for help developing legal institutions and  judicial systems for their Nations. Thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the legal clinic will now remain open year-round. 

The capital infusion empowers Tribes as well as UCLA law students, who have the unique opportunity to work directly with Tribes on drafting legislation and establishing courts and legal codes.

Known as the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Tribal Legal Development Clinic Director at UCLA School of Law, the clinic specifically helps Tribes build a legal branch customized to their needs. 

“The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is committed to improving justice systems on Native lands in California and beyond,” said San Manuel Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena. “Partnering with UCLA School of Law, we can help Native Nations build legal institutions that are durable, just and responsive to the social and cultural needs of our communities.”

Lauren van Schilfgaarde

According to Lauren van Schilfgaarde, director of the clinic, the grant will fund continuous operation for at least five years, allowing the clinic to “see (projects) through in a more meaningful and holistic way. We’re able to offer a much more robust service to the Tribal communities, and I think that makes the law school a healthier community partner.”

The clinic director and students will work with different Tribes on matters including youth justice, criminal justice and strengthening legal institutions, but will not take on work related to gaming, land use or federal recognition of Tribes. Current projects include legal code development with the Yurok Tribe in Northern California, performing research and writing for the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court in Wisconsin, and developing procedures related to cultural resource protection and ancestral remains repatriation in California.

“UCLA Law has a tradition of training law students to help build the foundations for robust, independent governance and legal systems in Indian country,” said Angela Riley, a professor at UCLA Law and director of UCLA Law’s Native Nations Law and Policy Center and UCLA’s dual-degree program in Law and Native American Studies. “Through this generous gift, our law students will gain one-of-a-kind opportunities to work with Native Nations throughout California and beyond, travel to Tribal lands and develop into legal leaders who will influence Tribal justice for generations to come.”

The collaboration continues a tradition of development of native leaders at UCLA. In 2004, a $4 million grant from the San Manuel Band established the Tribal Learning Community and Educational Exchange at UCLA. TLCEE, which is housed within the school of law, is an interdisciplinary experiential education program that joins native peoples’ knowledge and vision for the future with the academic world at UCLA. The program offers courses and workshops on campus, online and in native communities, for community members and UCLA students interested in American Indian Studies.

The TLCEE program and Tribal Legal Development Clinic were launched under the guidance of Carole Goldberg, Jonathan D. Varat Distinguished Professor of Law Emerita at UCLA and a nationally recognized leader in Tribal law.

Goldberg, who retired in 2018 after 46 years on the UCLA Law faculty, said, “This new grant deepens on already powerful relationship between UCLA and Native Nations in California and from across the United States. We are proud to work with the San Manuel Band to strengthen the institutions that advance Tribal sovereignty, protect Tribes’ cultural and natural resources, and ensure opportunity and fairness for everyone on Tribal lands.”

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