Students in the Southwest Indian Law Clinic (SILC) took a break from the legal world of files and cases for an afternoon recently, instead sharing what they have learned with a class of 7th-grade students at Santo Domingo Middle School.
Led by Heidi Macdonald (`10), the law students joined with the Kewa Pueblo (formerly Santo Domingo Pueblo) students in legal role play designed to introduce them to tribal courts and the concepts of traditional justice and sovereignty. All students were given scripts that provided a speaking role for nearly everyone.
In the two scripts, playwright MacDonald presented a fact pattern based on a recent clinic case in which a public school student had been arrested for painting graffiti on a bathroom wall at the school. First, she laid out a children’s court proceeding, with a judge, probation officer, lawyers, the offending student and his grandmother playing the starring roles.
In the second scenario, the case went in front of a generic tribal court. The roles included the tribe’s governor, lieutenant governor, a member of the tribal council, the offending student, his grandmother and two aunts.
“My idea was to show how the different court systems handled the same fact pattern,” said Macdonald, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. She organized the role play exercise as her required SILC project, at the request of Charlotte Lindahl, the class’ teacher. All SILC students organize a legal project during their semester in the clinic, which was co-taught this semester by professors Christine Zuni Cruz (`82) and Barbara Creel (`90). Other projects included work with Isleta Tribal Courts, the Albuquerque Indian Center and the Urban Indian Advocacy Project.
The learning went both ways, when a Kewa tribal official shared with the SILC students the pueblo’s tribal legal system and process. Following the presentation, the middle school class peppered the SILC students with well-thought questions on federal Indian law.
Macdonald and classmate Jessica Packineau (`10), who both had been teachers prior to law school, enjoyed being back in the classroom and seeing how engaged the young students were.
“And it gave me an opportunity to be a role model to those Native American students, so they could see that if I could go to law school, so could they,” said Macdonald. “It also was a great opportunity to form a relationship with this pueblo.”
For Packineau, she liked providing a learning opportunity to the Kewa students at their level, so they could understand how legal systems work.
Other SILC students who made the trip to Kewa were Kristi Williams (`11), Sean Cunniff (`10) and Javier Martinez (`10).