People meeting inside Mashpee Tribal Courthouse

Clinic students meeting at a Tribal Court

Students in Suffolk Law’s Indigenous Peoples Rights Clinic serve Native American tribal governments and indigenous organizations, supporting their nation-building activities and advocacy efforts. Just as attorneys working for other government entities, students participating in the clinic may work with a division or branch of a tribal government, such the judiciary, tribal council or a government department. Clinic students gain a unique experience working with tribes or indigenous organizations on legal projects, such as drafting rules for tribal courts, researching land rights or advocating for indigenous peoples human rights before international human rights mechanisms.

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.

This is a full-year clinic offered for 10 credits (5 credits/semester) and students will receive separate letter grade at the end of the academic year for the clinic work and seminar.


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.

Nation Building

Since its inception, the Clinic has supported the nation building efforts of the region's tribes. It has drafted numerous tribal court rules, such as Rules of Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, Evidence and Appellate Procedure, and drafted several tribal ordinances and codes on a variety of areas.


In 2016, the  Clinic was commissioned by the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC) to research the drafting of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, a 1980 federal law settling the land claims of tribes located in the State of Maine. The research on the Settlement Act was commissioned to reinvigorate a dialogue between the State of Maine and the four tribes located in the State in an effort to develop mutually beneficially solutions to long-standing conflicts arising from the interpretation of the Act and a related Maine state law. The findings and observations, as well as the primary materials may be found on a searchable website, developed with assistance from the Moakley Archive and Library.


Organizing For and With Massachusetts Native Peoples 

This collaborative effort is the result of ongoing dialogue between native and tribal peoples, Suffolk's Indigenous Peoples Rights Clinic, UMASS/Boston Institute for New England Native American Studies. 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 held a series of discussions and listening sessions across the Commonwealth during 2014-2016. During these listening sessions, native peoples who live in Massachusetts discussed the contemporary impact of centuries-old policies and laws, as well as how they hope to shape their future, ideally in collaboration with their non-Native neighbors, state, and local governments.

The listening sessions led to the creation of inter-tribal working groups on issues such as lands, education, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Visit the Series blog with more information about each listening session and working group meeting.

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 Survival's Quarterly Magazine.