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Helen B. Padilla, a 1997 graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law, brings a broad background in Indian Law to her new position as director of the American Indian Law Center.
Most recently, Padilla, a Native of New Mexico from the Pueblo of Isleta, was general counsel and tax administrator for the Pueblo of Tesuque in northern New Mexico, where she helped establish a Tax and Revenue Department and provided legal counsel on a wide range of legal issues.
Previously, she was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson as general counsel for the state's New Mexico Indian Affairs Department. In that capacity, she improved working relationships between tribal governments and state agencies. Through various executive orders and legislation, she worked to streamline the process for administering capital outlay funds for tribes, helped form tribal-state work groups on taxation issues, negotiated intergovernmental agreements with tribes and established tribal consultation policies that require state agencies to confer with tribes on sacred sites and repatriation matters.
Padilla, who grew up at the pueblo, also earned a bachelor's and a master's degree in business administration from UNM before moving on to law school. After earning her J.D., she was assistant regional counsel for the Social Security Administration in Denver, then spent more than six years with the Mohegan Tribe of Indians in Connecticut, helping to establish a tribal court system for the newly recognized tribe. When she left in 2004, she had served as senior staff attorney for more than five years.
Padilla is a graduate of the Pre-Law Summer Institute, the American Indian Law Center's flagship program. She also was a PLSI teaching assistant during the summer of 1995. At the UNM law school, she earned an Indian Law Certificate.
Currently, she is on the Board of Directors for the Indian Law Section of the New Mexico State Bar and is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna Gaming Control Board. Padilla also served on the Pueblo of Isleta Elementary School Board for six years.
"I look forward to building on the programs and services at the American Indian Law Center, to provide more legal training to tribes and to continue furthering the development of Indian Law nationwide," she says.
The American Indian Law Center celebrated its 40th anniversary this year and is the oldest-existing Indian-controlled and Indian-operated legal and public policy organization in the country. The AILC began at the UNM School of Law and has continued to run its programs from offices at the school, even after it became an independent nonprofit organization in 1976.