A savory buffet of harvest vegetables and the uplifting chants of Native American drummers greeted the Suffolk Law School community during the launch of the Indian Law and Indigenous Peoples Clinic on Nov. 21.

Law School Dean Camille Nelson said she was “thrilled and moved” to preside at the celebration, which included representatives from a dozen New England tribes, among them the Mashpee Wampanoag, Nipmuc, Maliseet and Abenaki, and a performance by the Eastern Suns drum group. She said the clinic, to be overseen by Professors Jeffrey J. Pokorak and Lorie M. Graham, is an example of Suffolk Law's mission to “bring the community into the law school.”

Serving individuals and tribal governments

Suffolk Law School’s Indian clinical program, which will be offered to student in spring 2012, is the only one of its kind east of the Mississippi, said Pokorak.

The clinic will serve the needs of tribal governments as well as individual Native Americans in the nine federally recognized and many state-recognized tribes in the six New England states. Issues to be addressed include child welfare, land claims, civil procedure, contracts, boundary disputes, environmental violations, and hunting and fishing rights

“It will be great to have these legal resources to turn to, because Indians so often find themselves on the short end of the legal stick,” said Jim Peters, director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs.

Learning and serving through clinical programs

Pokorak told the gathering of 60 people that the Indian Law and Indigenous Peoples Clinic will complement the school's existing clinical programs, which help students learn about the real practice of law while providing aid to populations underserved by the profession.

“Like all our clinical programs, it gives students the opportunity to develop their overall legal skills through practice while honing skills that are unique to working with the tribal governments,” he said.

Students will help draft court rules and tribal codes, develop materials to assist pro se claimants in tribal court, engage in Indian Child Welfare Act representation, and explore lawyering in Indian country, said Nicole Friederichs, the clinic's practitioner-in-residence.

Joann Dunn of the Mashpee tribe said the clinic is a “wonderful new resource” in the tribes' constant battle for justice and recognition.