UCLA Law Receives $15 Million Donation to Boost Native American Law and Policy

September 23, 2020
UCLA Law Professors Carole Goldberg and Angela Riley
UCLA Law faculty members Carole Goldberg (left) and Angela R. Riley have led the law school's nationally renowned work in Indian law and policy.

UCLA School of Law has received a $15 million donation from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria to advance the study and practice of Native American law. The gift is the largest-ever contribution that a tribe has made to a law school and one of the biggest in history from a tribe to a university. The funds will be dedicated to scholarships for Native American and other students interested in pursuing careers as tribal legal advocates.

The gift will create the Graton Scholars program at UCLA Law’s Native Nations Law and Policy Center. Graton Scholars will be among the best and brightest Native students and others interested in pursuing careers as tribal advocates. Each year, they will receive full-tuition scholarships that will cover all three years of law school at UCLA Law, which is well established as the nation’s premier law school for Indian law.

“This is one of the largest gifts to support scholarships in UCLA history, and we are incredibly grateful to the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria for this visionary investment, which bolsters our university’s longtime commitment to service in Indian country and the success of Native people everywhere,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “This gift allows us to recruit the very best candidates to pursue their legal education at UCLA and prepare for careers as impactful advocates for Native Nations.”

The announcement of the gift, which is also among the largest contributions to the law school in its seven-decade history, comes just days before the 53rd annual California Native American Day is celebrated, on Sept. 25.

“Tribal law is a cornerstone of Native Americans’ quest for equality and inclusion within the U.S. justice system,” said Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris, who received his undergraduate degree from UCLA and returned to teach English for more than a decade. “UCLA’s commitment to educating and preparing the next generation of tribal legal advocates is personally known to me, as an alumnus and former UCLA professor. We hope this gift will begin the drive for equity for our people in our native land. It’s particularly fitting that our announcement coincides with this Friday’s California Native American Day, which celebrates and honors the historic and cultural contributions by California Native Americans.”

Jennifer Mnookin, dean of UCLA Law, said, “We at UCLA Law are immensely proud of our national leadership in Indian law. Thanks to this extraordinary contribution, our faculty, staff and students will have far greater opportunities to collaborate in promoting tribal sovereignty, cultural resource protection, Native American child welfare and economic development in Indian country — work whose impact will last for generations. I am tremendously grateful to the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria for this vision, generosity and recognition of UCLA Law’s strength in this area.”

For decades, UCLA Law has been recognized as a leader among the nation’s preeminent law schools in developing courses, programs and scholarship addressing the legal standing and rights of Native Nations. The first legal casebook in federal Indian law was written by UCLA Law faculty, and the school developed the first joint degree program in law and American Indian studies.

UCLA Law’s Tribal Legal Development Clinic provides free legal services to tribes in the areas of constitution drafting and revision, tribal code development, establishment and operation of tribal court systems, and negotiation of cooperative agreements with local cities, counties and states to coordinate initiatives and services. Students in the clinic have acquired vital understanding and skills through on-site collaboration with tribal leaders, officials and community members.

“For decades, Native American students and those seeking a way of serving Native Nations have come to UCLA to gain an unparalleled education in Indian law and American Indian studies, launching them into influential careers in the field,” said Carole Goldberg, the Jonathan D. Varat Distinguished Professor of Law Emerita and founding director of the joint degree program in law and American Indian studies. “This exceptionally generous gift will enable the most talented and committed students to join them as powerful tribal advocates.”

UCLA Law Professor Angela R. Riley directs the Native Nations Law and Policy Center and currently serves as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, her tribe’s highest court.

“This gift is a remarkable benefit to students, scholars and advocates whose hard work through the NNLPC advances the rights of Native Nations,” Riley said. “We are deeply honored that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria chose to so strongly support our work to preserve and promote the rich history, culture and legal institutions of Native Nations across Indian country.”

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