Photo: Christine Zuni Cruz

Christine Zuni Cruz

Professor Emerita


  • B.A. 1980, Stanford University
  • J.D. 1982, The University of New Mexico
  • Member of the New Mexico Bar

Contact Information


Christine Zuni Cruz came to the UNM law school in 1993 to establish the Southwest Indian Law Clinic, which provides students with the opportunity to practice Indian Law. She had served as a tribal judge, a consultant with the U.S. Department of Justice, and been in private practice for ten years.

In her research and teaching, Zuni Cruz, a member of Isleta Pueblo, explores law, race, and culture, including the impact of law on Indian families, the practice of Indian Law and lawyering for native communities and the Indigenous legal tradition and modern law of indigenous peoples, domestically and internationally. In 2014-15, she served as the H. Robert Arscott Chair at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law in Canada. She has served as a U.S. State Department Speaker and Specialist in Bolivia and Brazil. Her research and teaching has taken her to Greenland, Ecuador, Libya, Mexico, Australia, and the South Pacific.

She spent 15 years as an associate justice on the Isleta Appellate Court. Previously, she was a tribal court judge with the Pueblo of Laguna and the Pueblo of Taos. She also was presiding judge with the Isleta Court of Tax Appeals and served as an Isleta gaming commissioner and as an appellate judge with the Southwest Intertribal Court of Appeals.

Zuni Cruz, the first pueblo woman to earn tenure as a law professor, is editor-in-chief of the Tribal Law Journal, an on-line law journal dedicated to the internal law of indigenous peoples. She recently served as a member of the UNM Division of Equity and Inclusion Task Force and is a member of the board of governors for the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT).


Indian Law

This course examines the power of the Indian tribes and the relationships among tribes, states, and the United States. Emphasis will be given to jurisdictional interfaces and conflicts among the three sovereignties.

International Advocacy for Indigenous Peoples

This is a two-credit seminar that will critically examine specific current international law developing and affecting the rights of indigenous peoples. It is intended to look closely at major studies, findings, recommendations, and emerging international law in respect to indigenous peoples, in specific areas including, discrimination, self-determination, and intellectual property and protection of indigenous knowledge. The seminar is intended to examine the major issues in depth and to stimulate discussion regarding the developing law, and its use in advocacy for indigenous peoples in the US. The seminar will also consider issues raised by indigenous peoples at the international level including, repatriation, border issues, universal jurisdiction, and others that arise for indigenous peoples as international law norms affect indigenous communities, such as conflict of human rights norms with tradition. Advocating human rights domestically and use of international law in advocacy by Indian nations within the nation state will be considered. Discussions will focus specifically on international advocacy for indigenous peoples in the US, including the challenges to such advocacy and the impact on indigenous peoples, within the US context. International Law and Indigenous Peoples and/or Federal Indian Law are useful for this course, but not required.

Law of Indigenous Peoples

This course provides a historical and a contemporary perspective on the internal law of Indigenous peoples, domestically and internationally. It is not a survey of the law; rather it provides a general introduction to the types of law by which Indigenous peoples govern themselves, as well as a format to discuss the development and effect of this law. This course is intended to familiarize students not only with traditional and contemporary aspects of the internal law of tribes, but also to consider the complex interrelationship between the two. The tremendous influence exerted by outside forces on the internal law of Indigenous peoples will also be considered in a critical manner.

Student Course Work - Tribal Profile

Students will be required to consider the internal laws of a tribe selected by the student and create a profile of the tribe's laws following the course outline. It is strongly recommended that the student choose his/her own tribe or a tribe with whom the student has a working relationship with or can develop a working relationship with, including a tribe the student may work with in the future or has worked with in the past. Students will be expected to add to the course materials as designated on the course syllabus. At the end of the semester, students will exchange the information gathered with appropriate appendices, notes and comments. The purpose of this project work is to allow students to consider the internal laws of one tribe in conjunction with the broader discussion that will take place in class. Students will be expected to share their observations based on the analysis and consideration of the internal law of their selected tribe as the semester progresses.

Paper Requirement

Students will be required to produce a research paper for the course. The paper is required to be at least 20 pages in length. The paper may be used to meet the writing requirement with my prior approval. The paper may be related to the tribal profile created by the student, but may also cover an unrelated subject.

Course Materials and Recommended Books

The course materials will be provided for you through the copy center. In addition, I will provide you with a list of the books I recommend. Many are the books from which we will be using excerpts. I recommend you obtain these books through or other such service.

Class Schedule

The syllabus covers Monday classes. Any overflow from discussions we may not have completed will continue on Thursdays. The extra hour each week will also be used to facilitate student writing of tribal profiles and profiles. I also expect to meet with each of you throughout the semester and this hour will be used for these meetings.

Pueblo Indian Law

The course will cover the major developments in law and policy toward the Pueblo Indians by Spain, Mexico and the United States from a critical perspective. Students will gain a historical perspective of the impacts of law on the Pueblos and its relationship to present treatment and emerging challenges.

Southwest Indian Law Clinic

Pre-requisite: Completion of first year curriculum and a qualifying Indian Law course. Students will not be enrolled without the pre-requisite Indian law course.Pre-or-co-requisite: Ethics

Summer 2013--Prof. Barbara Creel
Fall 2013--Prof. Barbara Creel
Spring 2014--Prof. Christine Zuni Cruz

Background –The Southwest Indian Law Clinic (SILC) provides high quality legal representation and clinical practice experience in Indian Country.  SILC is pro-active in the advocacy, promotion and establishment of indigenous people’s rights.  SILC students may represent individual clients and/or tribal groups or Indian communities.  Through representation, students may be exposed to issues arising from historical oppression, poverty and under-representation, and other issues related to culture, race and socio-economic status in the legal system.   Students are taught to approach legal solutions premised on tribal sovereignty, cultural rights or traditional internal law, as well as general legal principles.

Type of Case Work – The type of case work depends largely on the existing caseload and new case intake, but the Clinic experience is also driven by individual student interest and energy. 

The Southwest Indian Law Clinic handles cases arising under federal, state or tribal law. Students may have opportunities to appear in all courts and to assist clients in access and use of tribal traditional dispute resolution in their community.  SILC cases allow students to engage in vigorous defense, active motion practice and extensive brief writing.  These cases typically involve people that would go without representation, but for SILC. 

Clients – Potential clients come from the outlying and nearby Pueblos and tribal communities, and the urban Indian population.  In addition to serving walk-in clients, SILC may provide legal services or intake at community intake sites in and around Albuquerque.  Students may also engage in project work with tribal governments, non-profit organizations and non-governmental Indian organizations. 

Clinic Class and Office hours –  Students will be required (1) to attend and actively participate in up to five classroom sessions (ten during summer’s first three weeks) during each week of the academic semester and (2) to maintain, in addition to classroom hours, a schedule of 24 (2-hours block) fixed office hours (physically present in the clinic, working on clinic matters) each week during Summer, or 16 (2-hours block) fixed office hours each week during Fall and Spring semesters.

Classroom learning complements and supports both the high quality representation and professionalism in all dealings with clients, staff, supervisors, the judiciary, opposing parties and others.  Classroom discussions of pending cases and assigned readings; role-play and simulation; and cultural and racial literacy exercises enable students to practice and gain confidence in skills such as, client interviewing and counseling, advocacy, and communication.

Questions about the Southwest Indian Law Clinic?  Please feel free to visit with Profs. Creel or Zuni Cruz.  Have a great Clinic experience!

Tribal Courts

This course will explore the many facets of tribal courts in the United States, ranging from historical origins to the modern day operations of tribal courts. Among the topics will be the inherent power of tribal courts, judicial independence, separation of powers within tribal government, inter-tribal appellate courts, and the interplay among federal, state, and tribal courts. We will also analyze the fundamental characteristics of tribal courts and their function in the context of cutting edge cases involving jurisdictional issues, Indian civil rights, the use of tribal custom and tradition, criminal law, torts, and consumer law.

Tribal Law Journal

Tribal Law Journal I-S, Fall, II-S, Spring, III-S, Fall, IV-S, Spring

Students enrolled in the Law of Indigenous Peoples class will be invited to join the Tribal Law Journal staff for the fall and spring semesters of their second and third years. The journal is an exclusively on-line journal devoted to advancing indigenous self-determination through promoting scholarship and discussion on internal indigenous law. Students will meet throughout the year to learn, not only correct Bluebook citation styles, but also how to cite sources of traditional law. Students will be given the opportunity to edit and source check scholarly papers submitted to the journal, including substantive and technical editing, as well as opportunities to promote the mission of the journal in the community and submit their own written work for publication. The journal provides students the opportunity to learn more about indigenous law and to contribute their voice to the discussion relating to the internal law of the world’s indigenous people.

Tribal Law Journal Editor III-E, Fall, IV-E, Spring

The editor(s) of the Tribal Law Journal will work with the Editor-in-Chief in soliciting and selecting for publication articles submitted to the journal on internal indigenous law. Student editors will work collaboratively with authors to create a final product that reflects the mission of the journal, and at the same time, maintains the integrity of the authors’ work. The editor(s) will also be responsible for teaching and supervising the editing work of the journal staff and the final overall substantive and technical editing of student and professional pieces submitted for publication. Students will have the opportunity to assist the Editor-in-Chief in promoting the journal and its mission, at a local as well as at an international level. This course also includes a web-editing component for students interested in using technology to increase access to the issues critical to the self-determination of indigenous people.


Books & Book Chapters

Self Determination and Indigenous Nations in the United States: International Human Right, Federal Policy and Indigenous Nationhood, DIALOGUE ABOUT LAND JUSTICE (L. Strelein ed. 2010).
Available at: UNM-DR

Law of the Land-Recognition and Resurgence in Indigenous Law and Justice Systems in Indigenous Peoples and the Law, COMPARATIVE AND CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES (B. Richardson, et al. eds. 2009).
Available at: UNM-DR

Pueblo Indians, COHEN’S HANDBOOK ON FEDERAL INDIAN LAW (Nell Newton ed. 3d ed. 2005).
Available at: UNM-DR


The Indigenous Decade in Review, 73 SMU L. REV. F. 140 (2020).
Available at: UNM-DR

Exposing the Institutions that Mask Us, 32 CHICANO-LATINO L. REV. 53 (2014).
Available at: UNM-DR

La Verdad, El Poder, y La Liberación, HARV. J. L. & GENDER 1 (Apr. 2013).
Available at: UNM-DR

Lines of Tribe, 22 BERKELEY LA RAZA L. J. 77 (2012).
Available at: UNM-DR

Narrative Braids: Performing Racial Literacy, 33 AM. INDIAN L. REV. 153 (2008) (co-authored with Margaret Montoya).
Available at: UNM-DR

Shadow War Scholarship, Indigenous Legal Tradition, and Modern Law in Indian Country, 47 WASHBURN L.J. 631 (2008).
Available at: UNM-DR

Toward A Pedagogy and Ethic of Law/yering for Indigenous Peoples, 82 N.D.L. REV. 101 (2006).
Available at: UNM-DR

Four Questions On Critical Race Praxis: Lessons From Two Young Lives In Indian Country, 73 FORDHAM L. REV. 2144 (2005).
Available at: UNM-DR

Indigenous Pueblo Culture and Tradition in the Justice System: Maintaining Indigenous Language, Thought, and Law in Judicial Review, 2.23 LAND, RIGHTS, LAWS: ISSUES OF NATIVE TITLE (2003).
Available at: UNM-DR

Tribal Law as Indigenous Social Reality and Separate Consciousness: [Re] Incorporating Customs and Traditions into Tribal Law, 1 TRIBAL L. J. (2001).

[On the] Road Back In: Community Lawyering in Indigenous Communities, 5 CLINICAL L. REV. 557 (1999).
Available at: UNM-DR

Strengthening What Remains, 7 KAN. J. L. & PUB. POL'Y 18 (1997).
Available at: : UNM-DR

Violence and Tribal Protection of Indigenous Women in the United States, 69 ST. JOHN'S L. REV. 69 (1995) (co-authored with Gloria Valencia Weber).
Available at: UNM-DR

The Southwest Intertribal Court of Appeals, 24 N.M.L. REV. 309 (1994).
Available at: NMLR

Recognizing and Enforcing State and Tribal Judgments: A Round Table Discussion of Law, Policy and Practice, 18 Am. INDIAN L. REV. 239 (1994).
Available at: UNM-DR


 Dickason Professor

 Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law and Governance, McGill University


Narrative Braids: Performing Racial Literacy, 33 AM. INDIAN L. REV. 153 (2008) (co-authored with Margaret Montoya).

Reprinted: 1 FREEDOM CENTER J. 60 (2009).

Domestic Violence and Tribal Protection of Indigenous Women in the United States, 69 ST. JOHN'S L. REV. 69 (1995) (co-authored with Gloria Valencia Weber).

Cited: Excerpts reprinted in: READINGS IN AMERICAN INDIAN LAW: RECALLING THE RHYTHM OF SURVIVAL (Jo Carillo ed. 1997).

Cited: Excerpts reprinted in: CRITICAL RACE FEMINISM (Adrien Wing ed. 2 ed. 2003).

Strengthening What Remains, 7 KAN. J. L. & PUB. POL'Y 18 (1997).

Reprinted: TRIBAL LEGAL STUDIES (Jerry Gardner, ed.) (2004).

[On the] Road Back In: Community Lawyering in Indigenous Communities, 5 CLINICAL L. REV. 557 (1999).

Reprinted: in 24 AM. INDIAN L. REV. 229 (1999-2000).




Tribal Law as Indigenous Social Reality and Separate Consciousness: [Re] Incorporating Customs and Traditions into Tribal Law 1 TRIBAL L. J. (Jan. 2001).


Shadow War Scholarship, Indigenous Legal Tradition, and Modern Law in Indian Country, 47 WASHBURN L.J. 631 (2008).

Reprinted: 9 TRIBAL L. J. 1 (2009).

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