Campus & Community

Native American professorship endowed:

3 min read

Law School establishes Oneida Indian Nation Chair

Ray Halbritter

Harvard Law School (HLS) has announced the establishment of the Oneida Indian Nation Professorship of Law. This chair – the first endowed chair in American Indian studies at Harvard University and the only professorship of its kind east of the Mississippi River – will allow HLS to continue its leadership role in the development of emerging legal fields.

“The Oneida Nation is pleased and proud to endow a chair at Harvard University Law School,” said nation representative Ray Halbritter. “We are confident that the kind of scholarship for which the Law School is known worldwide will help create a better understanding of the complex legal issues faced by all American Indians today and in the future.”

The $3 million gift will fund a number of scholars who will teach at the School as Oneida Indian Nation Visiting Professors of Law. When the School has identified an appropriate candidate, it will fill the position with a permanent, tenured professor.

“We are honored that the Oneida Indian Nation has chosen to endow a chair in American Indian law at Harvard Law School. I am especially gratified that one of our alumni, Ray Halbritter, could play such an important role in making this gift possible,” said HLS Dean Robert C. Clark. “For too long, American Indian law has been marginalized in legal education. I hope the establishment of this professorship will send a strong signal that the study of American Indian legal systems should be a vital area of scholarship at American law schools.”

The study of American Indian law today involves a focus on issues arising from the legal and political relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. Some major contemporary issues in American Indian law scholarship include tribal treaty and property rights; congressional plenary power in Indian affairs; the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes; and the scope of tribal sovereignty and self-governing powers on the reservation, among others.

In recent years, HLS has offered courses in federal Indian law, indigenous peoples’ law, tribal legal practices, and tribal treaty drafting. Each spring, selected HLS students perform legal research and writing in an Arizona-based tribal legal clinic. In 1999, HLS hosted a working session of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court – the first session by a tribal court ever held at the University.

HLS is also an active participant in the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP), an initiative dedicated to bringing together Harvard’s schools to advance scholarship and teaching on issues relating to native peoples.

“The Harvard University charter of 1650 calls for the ‘education of English and Indian youth,’” noted HLS Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Alan Ray, a member of the Native American Program’s advisory board and of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. “We view the Oneida Indian Nation Professorship as a boon to all units of the University and expect that the person selected will be eager to participate in HUNAP’s interfaculty collaborations.”

The Oneida Indian Nation is a federally recognized Indian nation in central New York. It is a member of the Haudenosaunee, known in English as the Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy. The word Haudenosaunee means “people of the longhouse.”