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Arizona State’s law school starts Indian gaming and self-governance programs

Arizona State University’s new Indian gaming and self-governance programs are led by Ann Marie Bledsoe-Downes (Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska), left, and Lawrence Roberts (Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin). (ASU photo)

Indian gaming and self-governance – two areas that carry plenty of significance for tribes throughout Indian Country – are the focus of new programs launched by Arizona State University.

The programs — described by the school as the first of its kind — are offered by ASU’s Indian Legal Program (ILP) at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

The Indian gaming and self-governance programs offer a focused degree in the Master of Legal Studies (MLS) and Master of Laws (LLM). The programs are designed to provide students with a foundation to pursue careers in Indian gaming or tribal self-governance, such as executive positions with tribes and tribal entities, tribal elected officials and other leadership or management roles in government.

“Tribes and other employers are investing resources in on-the-job training because these focused master’s degree programs are not offered by any other law school in the country,” said Lawrence Roberts, who is heading up the program with Ann Marie Bledsoe-Downes; both served in leadership roles in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs in former President Barack Obama’s administration. “Our graduates will be able to hit the ground running, saving both time and resources for a broad spectrum of employers – tribes, federal agencies, congressional staff and state agencies. We’re building off of more than 30 years of excellence at the ILP and this is another step to further that excellence.”

Roberts, the programs’ full-time executive director and professor of practice, is a citizen of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin. In addition to his work in the Obama administration, he previously served as general counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Bledsoe-Downes, director of the programs and professor of practice, is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. She is executive vice president of community impact and engagement at Ho-Chunk, Inc. She previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development in the Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs and as the acting director of the Bureau of Indian Education.

Students will be part of ASU Law’s broader Indian Legal Program community that includes dozens of Native students from tribes across the country. In addition to Indian gaming and self-governance, the ILP offers focus areas of specialized study in Indian law, tribal policy law and government.  

“ASU is a very fine institution that has spread a lot of good will, energy and education to Indian Country and received from Indian Country,” said National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernest Stevens Jr. “Our tribal gaming industry houses a powerhouse of expertise and knowledge. It’s an honor to work with ASU Law to help develop a solid and successful degree program.”

The Indian gaming aspect provides in-depth courses for students on the industry’s regulation, compliance and implementation. With revenue of nearly $34 billion in 2018 – according to the National Indian Gaming Commission – and providing employment to hundreds of thousands of workers, Indian gaming has a significant impact on economies, including at the local and state levels. In Florida, for example, a study released by the American Gaming Association in 2018 showed that tribal gaming added $6.1 billion to the state’s economy, supported nearly 46,000 jobs and generated more than $1.1 billion in state, federal and local taxes and revenue share payments. The Seminole Tribe of Florida owns six casinos in Florida, including Hard Rock venues in Hollywood and Tampa.

The self-governance program is designed to educate students in understanding the legal framework of the tribal-federal relationship, the federal programs and statutes associated with tribal self-governance and the implementation of that legal framework.

“Tribes are implementing a number of federal programs through self-governance,” Roberts said. “Our focused degree programs are tailored for professionals who work in this area to really understand the fundamentals of tribal sovereignty and the federal statutes that promote tribal self-governance.”

Students can attend classes full or part-time, in person or online and at ASU Law’s campuses in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., and in the future, Los Angeles.

“We’re excited about our existing partnerships with the National Indian Gaming Association and the Self-Governance Communication and Education Tribal Consortium to provide our students with the insights they’ll need to land their dream jobs,” Roberts said.

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