Native American Law Students Association Wins National Awards

Chapter of the Year is one of several honors for Columbia at this year's Indian Law conference organized by the Federal Bar Association.


New York, April 26, 2012—Columbia Law School’s chapter of the National Native American Law Students Association (NNALSA) was named 2011–2012 Chapter of the Year at the Federal Bar Association’s Indian Law Conference this month in Santa Fe, N.M.
It was the first time the Law School chapter captured the award, which honors the school that best furthers the NNALSA mission through demonstrated service and commitment to the Native American community. Over the course of the year, Columbia NALSA provided many hours of pro bono service to tribes, worked with faculty to incorporate more federal Indian law into the curriculum, and organized a recruitment weekend to increase the number of Native American applicants to the Law School.
“We will leverage this award to continue to raise awareness about indigenous legal issues among the student body and strengthen Columbia Law’s work in Indian country,” said chapter president Jenny Patten ’13, who accepted the award.
Columbia Law School took home other honors at this year’s conference as well. Allison Neswood ’13, a member of the Navajo Nation, was named the 2011–2012 2L of the Year. Currently vice president of the chapter, Neswood organized a spring break project in which 11 Columbia students worked with the Navajo Nation on issues such as tribal resource rights, community development, tribal educational programs, and tribal tenant rights. The project was also selected by Law School students as the Public Interest Initiative of the Year, an award conferred at Social Justice Initiatives’ 2012 Public Interest Honors Dinner.
Caitlin Smith ’12 captured first place in the 11th Annual NNALSA Writing Competition, hosted by Lewis & Clark Law School, for her article “The Jay Treaty Free Passage Right in Theory and Practice.” The 1794 treaty between the United States and Great Britain allowed Native Americans to travel freely between the U.S. and Canada, which was then a British territory. Columbia NALSA will host the writing competition next year and partner with the Columbia Journal of Race and Law to publish the winning article.
Navajo Nation member Precious Benally ’13 was elected NNALSA president for 2012–2013. She takes over from Shawn Watts ’12, a member of the Cherokee Nation, marking the first time that Columbia Law School students will serve as president of the organization for two consecutive years. Three other Law School students will serve on the NNALSA’s executive board in 2012–2013. Neswood will serve as secretary, while Patten, a San Carlos Apache and Native Hawaiian, was elected Treasurer—a position currently held by Caitlin Smith. JoAnn Kintz ’14 was elected the representative to Area 6, serving the northeast region.
“Students who participated in the Spring Break Caravan to the Navajo Nation, many not Indians, said the experience changed their lives” recalled Ellen Chapnick, Dean for Social Justice Initiatives. She noted further that NALSA’s moot court and other programs attract a broad group of Columbia students.
Columbia’s Native American Law Students Association was founded in 1989 to foster academic support for Native American students and others interested in American Indian legal issues. In addition to providing support to Native American law students, Columbia NALSA has focused on increasing Indian recruitment in response to the historically low Indian enrollment at law schools. It also sponsors several educational and social events annually.
The NNALSA was founded in 1970 to promote the study of Federal Indian Law, Tribal Law, and traditional forms of governance, as well as to support Native Americans in law school. It strives to reach out to native communities and encourage their members to pursue legal education and to educate the legal community about Native American issues. Attendees at the 37th annual conference included legal experts from the field of Indian law, tribal judges, state attorneys general, law students, and federal attorneys.