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OCU Law forms Tribal Sovereignty Institute

Leaders from Oklahoma City University and the Oklahoma City University School of Law on Tuesday announced the formation of a new institute for the advancement of tribal sovereignty.  

The OCU Tribal Sovereignty Institute will be housed at the Oklahoma City University School of Law in downtown Oklahoma City, with the aim of creating scholarship on the topic of sovereignty; elevating understanding about sovereignty; educating and training lawyers with expertise in American Indian law; and ultimately pursuing sovereignty initiatives beyond the legal realm through cultural preservation, language revitalization and economic development.

The announcement was made by OCU President Kenneth Evans and OCU Law Dean David Holt during the opening day of the 36th annual Sovereignty Symposium, which was hosted for the first time this year by OCU and OCU Law. Both leaders characterized the creation of the Institute as a logical outgrowth of the long-running Sovereignty Symposium.

“We are excited for this next step in our ongoing partnership with the Native American community,” Evans said. “With the support and cooperation of the state’s tribes, we will continue to shine the spotlight on the critical issue of tribal sovereignty.”

Holt said the OCU Tribal Sovereignty Institute fills a critical need.

“Policymakers need more independent, credible information on this topic,” he said. “All government entities, law firms, and tribes need attorneys who are knowledgeable in these areas. Considering our existing work and our location, we think that OCU and OCU Law are ideal institutions to meet this need. This Institute will further establish our law school, our university and our city as leaders at the forefront of these sovereignty conversations.”

This year’s Sovereignty Symposium, staged at the Skirvin Hilton in downtown Oklahoma City, is hosting nearly 600 attendees from the across the country. Participants, including dozens of tribal and state leaders, have the opportunity to explore legal and policy issues relevant to Oklahoma’s 39 tribes and beyond.

Holt said that the initial phase of formation for the OCU Tribal Sovereignty Institute will include the hiring of an executive director who is also envisioned to be a full-time faculty member at the OCU School of Law.  The process of hiring the inaugural executive director is expected to play out over the coming year.

Holt and Evans were joined by tribal leaders in the announcement, who expressed their support for the creation of the Institute.

“The Sovereignty Symposium has played a central role in sovereignty conversations for nearly four decades, and it is time for its work to expand year-around,” said Gov. Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation. “I believe this OCU Tribal Sovereignty Institute will provide an important new platform for many important initiatives. The Chickasaw Nation is excited to work with OCU and OCU Law in this endeavor and we believe this institute has great potential.”

Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said that as a practicing attorney and an elected tribal leader, he sees the prominence of sovereignty issues every day.

“We need information that is accessible to attorneys and policymakers and members of the public,” Standing Bear said. “We need focused training as well. I think this institute can play a critical role in this regard and I’m pleased to see it launch.”

Evans and Holt noted that the institute builds off of OCU and OCU Law’s existing work in the areas of American Indian law and culture. This work includes the university’s language revitalization and technology education work with Apple; the American Indian Wills Clinic, which celebrated its 15th anniversary at OCU Law this week; and serving as host of the annual Sovereignty Symposium.

The symposium was founded 36 years ago by OCU alumna Justice Yvonne Kauger and the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It has emerged since that time as a major annual event in Oklahoma City, providing a forum for important conversations and valuable networking. The court hosted the event until commencing a transition in 2023 to OCU and OCU Law, which served as lead hosts for the first time this year. Standing Bear served as keynote speaker during the opening ceremonies at this year’s event, and was celebrated with the “Honored One” award.

More information about the symposium is available at thesovereigntysymposium.com. For more information about the OCU School of Law, go to law.okcu.edu.

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