Pursuing passion while preserving culture

Gabriel Moses

Gabriel Moses is a staff attorney with the Native American Program, Legal Aid Services of Oregon (NAPOLS) in Portland. NAPOLS provides high-quality legal services to Indian Tribes, groups and individuals with limited income in the state of Oregon. 

As a Nimiipuu from the Nez Pierce Tribe, Moses was raised on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Moses, who graduated in 2008, chose Oregon Law because he wanted to immerse himself in the legal environment of the Pacific Northwest. Additionally, he wanted to better understand the unique issues facing Northwest Indian tribes in relation to tribal law, federal Indian law, and state laws. 

"As a public institution Oregon Law has the goal and the opportunity to radiate its influence throughout the State of Oregon, and to the nine federally recognized tribes,” Moses said.  “Similar to Oregon Law's goal to serve and represent every corner of Oregon, NAPOLS offers me the opportunity to serve low-income tribal members with legal issues arising out of their status as Native Americans throughout Oregon.”  

While at Oregon Law, Moses was president of the Native American Law Students Association and a Graduate Teaching Fellow for the Many Nations Longhouse. He says that being involved and surrounded by influential academics and practitioners, helped him successfully navigate law school. 

“The work being done by Dean Strickland, Professor Mary Wood, Professors Arnett & , Peterson, and Professor Amos is so vital to tribes,” Moses said. “Atwaii Gordon Bettles was the Many Nations Longhouse Steward and supervised my Graduate Teaching Fellowship and Tom Ball helped me a great deal. Margaret Hallock and the Wayne Morris Center brought in a lot of good speakers on Indian and tribal law, as did the Environmental Natural Resources Center and The Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.” 

Moses says that his former professors and mentors became colleagues that opened doors to participate in professional opportunities. Those experiences connected him to key Indian law practitioners in Oregon, leading to him secure his current position. He points out that not only did they advise him, but they acted as very persuasive and distinguished references. 

Looking back, Moses points out that law school was very demanding but preserving his cultural upbringing was essential, so he was very grateful for the university’s supportive environment. 

“Raised Nimiipuu, I developed a very traditional manner of thinking in knowledge and storytelling,” Moses said. “My biggest challenge was retaining my traditional culture while adopting the legal community's methodology for legal analysis.” 

Moses points out that by adapting “Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion” and “Conclusion, Rule, Explanation of Rule, Analysis, Conclusion” approaches, he came to enjoy and appreciate the legal distillation of analysis and interpretation - but in a way that still preserved his traditional way of thinking. 

As a student, Moses says that he enjoyed seeing the interaction with tribal leaders and being able to witness his culture being honored within the halls of the law school.  

“The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation was invited to talk, and my Uncle Bill Quaempts started with a prayer song,” Moses recalls. “Hearing the drum and song within the law school was so powerful and significant to me that it remains one of my favorite moments from law school. I will never forget the blend of town, gown, and Indigenous.” 

Each opportunity to interact with tribal elders and to hear their stories of struggle and triumph inspired Moses to continue his path as an attorney. Each story, he says, enabled him to hear the voice of his ancestors, and renewed his passion and commitment to serving his people. 

“I saw and continue to see how they are always striving to protect Native American cultural practices and knowledge,” said Moses. “They show why our traditional ways are so important to practice and to protect for ourselves and for future generations. They confirm our obligation and responsibility to protect these natural resources because they have been bestowed to our care.” 

By Rayna Jackson, School of Law Communications