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Sherri Thomas knows that Indian Law is not a straightforward legal field. Its many layers of government and cultural contexts make it unique. She has taken all of this into consideration in her efforts to build up the UNM Law Library's Indian law collection.
Already, she has compiled a broad range of web-based resources that include federal case law, treaties, Native American organizations, publications, along with tribal codes and constitutions. They can be accessed at no cost from the law library's website.
"We can't look at U.S. Indian law in a vacuum because of how it potentially affects indigenous people around the world," says Thomas, a 2005 graduate of the UNM School of Law where she earned an Indian Law certificate. "You can’t look at statutes and cases alone. We also need a cultural context."
She also is making available on UNM's DSpace trial transcripts of U.S. Supreme Court cases that involve tribal issues, recognizing the significance of witness testimony in Indian law cases.
"Trial testimony offers insights into how a case is built, which is especially important in Indian law when cultural information is being presented. ften there is a difference between the perspectives of expert witnesses and tribal elders," she says.
In her efforts to build the collection, Thomas has begun the slow process of acquiring tribal statutes and codes, beginning with New Mexico tribes and pueblos, and then building outward across the country.
She also serves on the law school's Indian Law Faculty Committee, through which she connects with students on main campus and learns of their Indian law needs.
"My goal is to make sure people know about the law library's Indian law collection and that it is available at no cost to anyone with Internet access," she says. "I also want to be able to respond to the research needs of our patrons."
Thomas, who has been a visiting lecturer at the law library, recently accepted a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of law librarianship. In her new job, she will continue to build the Indian law collection, provide faculty support, teach and provide outreach across the state.