People meeting inside Mashpee Tribal Courthouse

Meeting at a Tribal Court

Information for Students

The clinic provides students with an opportunity to represent a tribal government or indigenous organization and develop transferable lawyering skills such as client interviewing and counseling and document drafting.

Clinic students may draft procedural rules for a tribal court, represent an indigenous organization before an international human rights mechanisms, research and draft tribal laws, or develop policy strategies on issues important to tribal communities, such as the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

In addition to working on their projects and/or cases, students attend a two-hour weekly seminar which:

  • Explores the unique aspects of lawyering in Indian country and working for tribal governments;
  • Covers advance topics of federal Indian law such as tribal court jurisdiction and practice and the New England Indian settlement acts;
  • Examines international human rights law as it applies to indigenous peoples;
  • Discusses how to advocate before international and regional human rights mechanisms; and
  • Studies and practices lawyering skills such as interviewing, legal strategizing, drafting, counseling and negotiation.

Students who have completed the course, Indigenous Peoples Rights and U.S. Law, will be given preference in the application process.

The Clinic is a full-year; 8 credits with a letter grade.

Information for Tribal Gov’ts/Orgs

The clinic offers free legal services to tribal governments and indigenous organizations located primarily in New England, but also nationally and internationally. Currently, the focus of the Clinic’s projects are nation-building activities such as drafting tribal court rules and code/laws, creating access to justice materials for tribal membership and engaging in policy matters relevant to tribal communities .

The clinic is also engaged in international human rights advocacy efforts before the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asserting rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

Client projects and cases are accepted on a rolling basis.

Please contact Nicole Friederichs with questions or for more information.

Past/Current Projects/Cases

International Human Rights Advocacy

Indigenous Community Radio in Guatemala

In 2012, the Clinic filed a petition (Spanish version) with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of indigenous community radio stations in Guatemala alleging violations of the rights to freedom of expression and culture and the principle of non-discrimination. After continued government raids of several of these stations, the Clinic filed a request for precautionary measures (Spanish Version) in 2015. This case remains pending.  

Indian Child Welfare

In partnership with the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the Clinic engaged the United Nations regarding the problematic implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. In 2014, it filed a report with the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which responded by issuing a recommendation to the United States to “(e)ffectively implement and enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 to halt the removal of indigenous children from their families and communities….” The Clinic also participated in the U.N. Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by filing a report and lobbying states.


Discussions For and With Massachusetts Native Peoples

Next Event - October 3, 2015 in Mashpee, MA

This collaborative project is the result of ongoing dialogue between Suffolk University Law School’s Indigenous Peoples Rights Clinic, UMASS/Boston Institute for New England Native American Studies, Massachusetts tribes, and other colleagues in academia and government. It originates from our lengthy conversations (including the one below) about past policies and statutes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and their impacts on the lives of contemporary Native Peoples who reside in the state.

To develop a framework for discussing this history and the current status of Native Peoples, Suffolk and UMASS/Boston are holding roundtable discussions across the Commonwealth. The events are open to the public; come hear what Native Peoples who live in Massachusetts have to say about these very old policies and their contemporary impact, as well as how they hope to shape their future, ideally in collaboration with their non-Native neighbors, state, and local governments.

Visit the Series blog and below are the dates of the discussions:

Panel Event - Video

A Hidden History: How Massachusetts Law and Policy Facilitated the Loss of Tribal Lands

April 15, 2014

Suffolk University Law School

Massachusetts colonial and state laws are replete with acts and laws addressing, regulating, taking and, occasionally, protecting tribal lands. Those laws and related policies, even those that sought to protect tribes and their lands, facilitated the steady and sometimes abrupt loss of the tribes’ traditional lands. Many of these tribal communities still remain and continue to feel the loss of their lands. Tribal leaders share the impact of that loss on their communities.

The event was sponsored by Suffolk University Law School’s Native American Law Students Association, Suffolk Law’s Indigenous Peoples Rights Clinic, and the University of Massachusetts Boston Institute for New England Native American Studies.

See also the story in Cultural Surival's Quarterly Magazine.