Letter from the Dean: Indigenous Peoples Day

A portrait of Dean Burke against brilliant fall foliage

October 12, 2020

Dear Law School Community,

Today the University of Oregon School of Law observes Indigenous Peoples Day. The Indigenous Peoples Day movement honors the ongoing presence and leadership of sovereign tribal nations here in the United States and indigenous communities across the world.

Since time immemorial, Native American peoples have inhabited the lands that currently comprise the state of Oregon. Oregon is home to nine federally recognized Tribes:

  • Burns Paiute Tribes
  • Coquille Indian Tribe
  • Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
  • Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua & Siuslaw
  • Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde
  • Klamath Tribes
  • Confederated Tribes of Siletz
  • Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
  • Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs

In addition, the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho and the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe of Nevada both possess lands here in Oregon. The University of Oregon itself is located on ancestral Kalapuya lands.

Oregon Law is fortunate to have strong associations with Native American cultures and tribal sovereignty. Rennard Strickland, former Oregon Law Dean (1997-2002), is of Osage and Cherokee heritage and is an immensely respected figure in the field of federal Indian law. The Environmental & Natural Resources Law Center has a distinguished Native Environmental Sovereignty Project, which, under the leadership of Professor Mary Wood, creates path-breaking scholarship used by Tribes across the region and nation. We are also honored to have at the law school Howard Arnett, Professor of Practice, who teaches the survey course on American Indian Law and advanced seminars on Tribal Courts and Tribal Law, Contemporary Issues in American Indian Law, and Comparative Law of Indigenous Peoples. Professor Arnett has practiced law for 40 years in Arizona and Oregon, representing tribal governments, tribal members, and Native American organizations. In 2019, he received the Twanat Award from the Museum at Warm Springs for distinguished service.

Some of our graduates have gone on to serve Native American tribes. A couple of examples include Oregon Law graduate Meghan Sigvanna Topkok, JD '17. An enrolled member of the Native Village of Ambler, an Iñupiaq tribal community, she served as the President of the National Native American Law Students Association, a nation-wide organization.  She now serves as the Staff Attorney at a tribal consortium Kawerak, located in Nome, Alaska.  She is also on Nome's City Council.  Erika Pirotte, JD'18, is an attorney for the natural resources unit for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice.  Her unit handles all legal matters pertaining to the development and use of the Nation’s land and natural resources and protection of the environment.

I also invite you to join us on October 28 for the Fourteenth Annual Rennard Strickland Lecture. The speaker this year is Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native tribal government organization in the country.  She is also the President of the Quinault Indian Nation.  Information on how to register for this online program will be available soon on our website.


Marcilynn A. Burke
Dave Frohnmayer Chair in Leadership and Law
University of Oregon School of Law