By:      Ted J. Griswold | Partner |

As we look forward to what 2017 may bring, we thought that it might be instructive to review our readers’ interests in 2016.  Thanks to those more tech savvy than yours truly, I was able to determine that the Blogging Circle was read in 10 countries around the globe over the past year.  Readers from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, India and Australia—all countries with active indigenous populations—were somewhat predictable, but gaining readership in in the UK, Italy and Ireland was a bit more surprising.  It tells us that there is a diverse audience out there that is looking to learn more about Native American legal issues that may be applicable to their local situation, wherever that is.

What were people looking for?  The top 10 Blogging Circle articles reviewed in 2016 were:

1. No Dice for California Indian Casinos?

2. Aviation in Indian Country: Seminole Tribe of Florida

3. “What’s Up? Native American Aviation and Airspace

4. Standing Rock Sioux Water Protectors Win a Battle, But More Battles to Come

5. Pride or Prejudice: Native Regalia and Graduation Ceremonies

6. Bully’s Beware: Tribal Elected Officials CAN be Sued in State Court

7. Indian Tribes May Gain Relief from NLRB Actions

8. Where are they now? 9 and Counting…The Procopio Native American Internship Alumni

9. Increasing the Numbers: Effective Recruitment of Native American Law Students (Guest column)

10. Now Accepting Applications for Procopio’s Summer 2017 Native American Law Internship Program

We appreciate your interest and hope that you enjoyed reading the Blogging Circle this year, and we look forward to surprising you with additional relevant, entertaining and newsworthy articles next year.  Wishing you a happy, safe and prosperous New Year.

Ted GriswoldTed is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.

Pride or Prejudice: Native Regalia and Graduation Ceremonies

By Heather Torres | Intern |

Over the past weekend, many celebrated the 240th birthday of the United States with fireworks, food, and flying the nation’s flag. Red, white, and blue stars and stripes found on everything from cupcakes to clothing. We see similar celebrations around high school graduation time; families blasting airhorns at commencement, throwing parties, decorating homes and cars in school colors, all to honor the accomplishments of young scholars. However, a particular way of celebrating seems to cause a stir every year: Native graduates wearing tribal regalia.

This year’s graduation season was littered with stories of public school districts banning Native American students from wearing regalia and beaded caps during graduation ceremonies. At least four incidents were reported on various media platforms. (1, 2, 3, 4) The students planned on wearing graduation caps beaded by their family members and traditional regalia to celebrate their accomplishment, to honor their ancestors, and to be a role model for other Native students. Role models and the visibility of their accomplishments are vital to efforts to reverse historically low graduation rates for Native students.

School policies implicated in these incidents are aimed at some general goals. Those goals include safeguarding uniformity, preserving the sanctity of the ceremony, and upholding formality. Often, once a dialogue occurs between the school and the student, school officials agree to accommodate a student’s request, particularly because the school leadership recognizes the spiritual and religious significance of the regalia. However, when an agreement is not reached, students face fines, not participating in commencement, and not receiving their diploma.

An individualized process could be applied to all student requests, allowing schools to practice informed discretion when considering requests from students. In past advocacy efforts, organizations like the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) point out the parallels between school sponsored honor chords and wearing an eagle feather on a graduation cap. Both symbolize outstanding achievement and represent a well-deserved honor. NARF has also created brochures for students on how to approach their school’s administration with a request and for schools to better understand the cultural and religious significance of eagle feathers.

Looking at images of students in public school districts like the Nebo School District in Utah, which graduated 100% of its Native seniors this year, the sanctity and formality school district’s seek is beautifully embodied in tribal regalia. If anything, a student’s regalia honors the sacredness of the ceremony and elevates the accomplishment beyond the individual student to their Tribal Nation(s). Arguments around uniformity, formality, and dignity harken back to the federal government’s assimilationist policies, most notably exercised in Indian boarding schools. School districts recycle assimilationist values in their graduation attire policies by viewing tribal regalia as informal, inappropriate, and undignified.

Current restrictive school district policies have damaging and discriminatory effects on Native students, their families, and Tribal Nations. With the resources made readily available by organizations like NARF, students and families raising this issue every year, and the recent rise in media coverage, school districts should use the information available to critically review their policies and take corrective measures.

Heather Torres (San Ildefonso Pueblo, Navajo) is a rising 3L enrolled in the Critical Race Studies specialization at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. Heather is an Executive Editor for the Indigenous Peoples’ Journal of Law, Culture & Resistance at UCLA. She is a recipient of the 2016 Procopio Native American Internship.

Ted GriswoldTed is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.

Increasing the Numbers: Effective Recruitment of Native American Law Students

By:      Kiyana Davis Kiel | Attorney |

Editor’s Note:  With the arrival of our Native American Interns Kele Bigknife (Michigan Law) and Heather Torres (UCLA Law), I asked a colleague at the University of San Diego how law schools were doing in attracting and keeping Native American law students.  Was the Native American Bar increasing?  I learned that law schools are still struggling to attract Native American law students.  Guest blogger Kiyana Kiel, Esq., USD School of Law Director, Academic Success & Bar Programs, provides insight into this problem, and hope for improvement.

Diversity is a hot topic in legal education, specifically, the lack of diversity at American law schools. Though law school admissions professionals strive to build diverse student bodies, the recruitment (and retention) of minority candidates remains stagnant. My experience on admissions committees and anecdotal evidence from other law school admission professionals identifies a primary problem: there are not enough minority candidates.

The number of minority law school applicants is disproportionally small compared to that of their majority (Caucasian) counterparts. The diversity numbers are even more reduced when you look at Native American. According to fall 2015 data from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), of the 54,500 applicants for law school admission, only 1,230 were identified as Native American.  Of those, only 840 were admitted to law school (2% of the total applicant pool); with a 68% acceptance rate compared to the 85% acceptance rate of Caucasian applicants.

When confronted with these numbers, the questions for admissions professionals become: (1) what causes the discrepancies in the number of applicants and the acceptance rates between Caucasian and Native American candidates? and (2) what can be done to remedy the cause(s) of it? Research suggests there are many—often interconnected—causes, including:

  • Limited access to competitive, college-preparatory education along the K-12 continuum;
  • Socio-economic background;
  • Status as a first generation college and graduate applicant/student;
  • Size of the Native American applicant pool;
  • Geographic proximity to law schools of interest; and
  • Law school course and program offerings of interest to Native American applicants.

We have found the challenge starts very early.  The greatest impact on the number of Native American candidates and law school admission is limited access to competitive, college-preparatory education along the K-12 continuum. A below average K-12 education creates a poor foundation for all educational pursuits that follow, causing a ripple effect that extends to college and graduate school prospects (or lack thereof).  Limited access to college-preparatory education leads to reduced admission to college, which in turn reduces law school admission. In order to reverse this outcome, it is imperative to provide access to opportunities by bridging the gaps that directly affect Native American students in the education pipeline.

Fortunately, there are programs bridging these education-access gaps.  College Horizons is a non-profit organization which focuses exclusively on advising Native American students regarding college and graduate admissions.  College Horizons cites that the high school graduation rate for Native American students is just 51%. Of those high school graduates, only 5% proceed directly to four-year colleges and, of those, only 10% graduate within four years.  Relative to other minorities and to the general US school-age population, Native American school children are at or near the greatest risks of receiving poor education and underperforming at the elementary and secondary levels.

College Horizons reports that of the 2,800 College Horizons’ participants, 99% are admitted to college, 95% attend a four-year institution, and 85% graduate within four to five years.  This is accomplished by partnerships with the Office of Admissions at colleges and universities with multicultural-diversity outreach initiatives to provide individualized college admission advising.

The UCLA Law Fellows Program (“Law Fellows”) is another program bridging the education-access gap for students “whose experiences reflect limited familial exposure to post-collegiate education, career opportunities, mentoring, and social support systems. Additional consideration is given to applicants who have overcome economic and/or educational hardships and challenges, or have come from, or demonstrated leadership experience in, economically or educationally underserved communities.”  This program includes, but is not limited to, Native American students.  Law Fellows bridges the law school-access gap by providing:

  • Professional-level instruction of undergraduate students by law school faculty;
  • A personalized Juris Doctor (law school) Action Plan;
  • Mentoring by current UCLA law students;
  • A full scholarship for one LSAT preparation course;
  • Presentations by practicing attorneys and leaders in the law community;
  • Admissions, financial aid, and LSAT workshops;
  • Legal research primer by law library staff; and
  • Follow-up activities and counseling until law school matriculation.

As an alumnus of Law Fellows, I can attest to the effectiveness of its programs and services. Prior to completing the LSAT preparation course provided through Law Fellows, I scored in the top 50th percentile of test-takers; following the preparation course, I scored in the top 15% of test-takers. This score difference, coupled with my undergraduate GPA, made me a competitive applicant to top 20 law schools—something that would not have been possible without the assistance provided by Law Fellows.

What Can Law Schools Do?

Law schools can make targeted efforts to support and nurture Native American students by creating and participating in strategic partnerships with:

  • K-12 schools with high Native American student populations;
  • Local colleges and universities;
  • Tribal governments; and
  • Organizations serving Native American populations

To mimic programs like College Horizons and Law Fellows in their geographic area. Locally, the American Indian Recruitment Programs (AIR) provides such an opportunity for K-12 Native American students.  AIR promotes higher education and success in academics in the American Indian community by providing supplemental educational instruction through tutoring, mentoring, and even college-level course work for high school students.  AIR has summer and school-year programs that work with partnerships developed with the UCLA, University of San Diego, UCSD, California State University San Marcos, and Palomar and Cuyamaca Community Colleges.

These programs could be volunteer and support initiatives, and do not necessarily need to be funded or organized exclusively by law schools because many colleges and universities have diversity offices and associated diversity initiatives.  The key is developing partnerships and providing support and encouragement starting early in the education process, and continue that support into college and law school.  To improve recruitment of Native American students at the law school level, it is necessary to increase the number of Native American applicants.  By creating and participating in strategic partnerships that bridge the education-access gaps at all levels, law schools position themselves to increase the Native American applicant pool and acceptance rates; thereby beginning to solve the problem of supplying more Native American law school candidates.

Kiyana Kiel received her JD from Boalt Hall – UC Berkeley School of Law and has spent her career working in public law, real estate law and educational pipeline matters.  She currently is the Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Ted Griswold

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.


The views, opinions and positions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP.

U.S. Department of Education Announces Upcoming Cities on its First-Ever School Environment Listening Tour for Native American Students

By: Theodore J. Griswold | Partner |

The White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education (WHIAIANE) has announced it is having listening sessions on Native students’ educational environments throughout Indian Country in November. The listening sessions will give tribal governments, tribal citizens, educators, parents, community members and students the opportunity to speak with White House officials and Department of Education staff. This is an important aspect of consultation with tribal communities and Indian Country. These forums are also necessary to ensure Native students are educated in culturally-appropriate environments preparing them with the vocational and academic skills required for a healthy life upon high school graduation.

These cities and dates are:

Troy, New York – November 5

Seattle, Washington – November 7

Los Angeles, California – November 13

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma –November 18

East Lansing, Michigan – November 19

Tulsa, Oklahoma – November 21

The tour already completed two stops, one in Franklin, Wisconsin on October 10 and the other on October 26 in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.

The listening sessions focus on school environment issues — bullying, student discipline and offensive imagery and symbolism. The White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education is gathering feedback during the tour and will consider how it can inform future action to ensure Native American students receive a high quality education.

“We hope these sessions will serve as a meaningful resource to the Native community as my office and the Administration work to ensure that American Indian and Alaska Native students have equitable educational opportunities in healthy learning environments,” said William Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. “Indian students have unique education challenges as they strive to preserve their native cultures and languages, while ensuring that they are college and career ready.”

In his June 13, 2014 visit to Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, President Obama affirmed the Administration’s commitment to strengthen Native American communities through education and economic development. His initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” ensures that schools can provide the social, emotional, and behavioral supports for all youth—including boys and young men of color—that will enable all students to graduate from high school ready for college and careers.

The WHIAIANE and the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) are committed to supporting school districts, states, tribal governments and other organizations as they seek to better serve Native American students and ensure that all students have equal opportunities and resources in order to learn and succeed in school, careers and in life.

The media advisory is here.

More information about the listening tour and tribal consultations can be found at

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.

PLSI: Empowering Indian Country, Building the Legal Profession and Native Bar

By: Eric Abeita | Intern
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner |

Transitioning into law school can be a difficult process.  The methods of research, analysis, and writing that are distinct to the legal profession are different than those learned in undergraduate or other graduate course work.  The ability to think like a lawyer is a trained and developed skill, and doesn’t come naturally to many people.  This is why the Pre-Law Summer Institute (PLSI) has become invaluable in preparing Native Americans for the rigors of law school.  The PLSI is a two month law school preparatory program run by the American Indian Law Center for American Indians and Alaska Natives.  Classes are held every June and July at the University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Law.  Students that have been accepted to any law school and those interested in applying or waiting to get in may attend the program.  It is an intensive program which mimics the first year of law school.  Participants take courses like Federal Indian Law, Torts, Property, and Legal Writing.  The credits you receive do not transfer to law school, but the experiences and knowledge you obtain far outweigh any school credits.

The PLSI was started by former UNM School of Law Dean, Fred Hart.  His idea was to start a preparatory law curriculum for Native Americans that was based on sound legal education principles, rather than a space for a philosophical, political, or cultural training ground.  The PLSI has now existed for more than four decades and has been extremely successful.  Every year about 30 students go through the program, and virtually all graduate law school.  It has been touted as the most successful pipeline program for Native Americans in the country.  Former UNM School of Law Dean and now Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Kevin Washburn, is a graduate of the PLSI.  I attended the PLSI two summers ago, and it was an invaluable experience that prepared me for the demands of law school.  The PLSI also plugs its graduates into a network of former participants who are now attorneys, judges, administrators and other professionals.

More programs like the PLSI should exist for various professions for Native Americans.  The PLSI has no doubt boosted the number of Native Americans successfully attaining law degrees, and similar programs would certainly increase the number of Native Americans with medical, business and other advanced degrees.  If you are a Native American interested in attending law school, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the PLSI.  It will give you a strong fundamental base of law school skills that will allow you to succeed in law school and your profession.  It will give you a confidence on your first day of law school that your peers will not have.  As more Native Americans become credentialed with college and advanced degrees, our ability to run self-sustaining Native communities increases significantly.  To learn more about the PLSI, click here.

Eric Abeita is a member of the Isleta Pueblo and is entering his third year at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Eric is a recipient of the 2014 Procopio Native American Internship.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.