Harvard Law School has announced the establishment of The Oneida Indian Nation Professorship of Law. This chair–the first endowed chair in American Indian studies at Harvard University and the only professorship of its kind east of the Mississippi River–will allow Harvard Law School to continue its leadership role in the development of emerging legal fields.

“The Oneida Nation is pleased and proud to endow a chair at Harvard Law School,” said Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, Harvard Law class of 1990. “We are confident that the kind of scholarship for which the law school is known worldwide will help create a better understanding of the complex legal issues faced by all American Indians today and in the future.”

The $3 million gift will fund a number of scholars who will teach at the law school as Oneida Indian Nation Visiting Professors of Law. When the school has identified an appropriate candidate, it will fill the position with a permanent, tenured professor.

“We are honored that the Oneida Indian Nation has chosen to endow a chair in American Indian law at Harvard Law School. I am especially gratified that one of our alumni, Ray Halbritter, could play such an important role in making this gift possible,” said Dean Robert C. Clark. “For too long, American Indian law has been marginalized in legal education. I hope the establishment of this professorship will send a strong signal that the study of American Indian legal systems should be a vital area of scholarship at American law schools.”

The study of American Indian law today involves a focus on issues arising from the legal and political relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. Tribal treaty and property rights, congressional plenary power in Indian affairs, the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes, the scope of tribal sovereignty and self-governing powers on the reservation, jurisdictional conflicts in Indian Country, and tribal government and tribal courts are examples of some of the major contemporary topics in American Indian law scholarship.

In recent years, Harvard Law School has offered courses in federal Indian law, indigenous peoples’ law, tribal legal practices and tribal treaty drafting. Each spring, selected HLS students perform legal research and writing in an Arizona-based tribal legal clinic. In 1999, HLS hosted a working session of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court–the first session by a tribal court ever held at Harvard University.

Harvard Law School is also an active participant in the Harvard University Native American Program, an initiative dedicated to bringing together Harvard’s schools to advance scholarship and teaching on issues relating to native peoples.

“The Harvard University charter of 1650 calls for the ‘education of English and Indian youth,'” noted HLS Associate Dean Alan Ray, a member of the Native American Program’s advisory board and of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. “We view the Oneida Indian Nation Professorship as a boon to all units of the university and expect that the person selected will be eager to participate in HUNAP’s interfaculty collaborations.”

The Oneida Indian Nation is a federally recognized Indian nation in central New York. It is a member of the Haudenosaunee (hoe-dee-no-so-nee), known in English as the Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy. The word Haudenosaunee means “people of the longhouse.”

Harvard Law School–an academic community with more than 150 faculty members, 1,800 full-time students and 18 distinct research centers and programs–has a long history of expanding its curriculum to meet the changing needs of both its students and the larger society. Currently the law school is conducting pioneering teaching and research in areas including Internet law, intellectual property, international taxation and bankruptcy.