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American Indian Law Program - Toolkit helps Indigenous Communities Implement Human Rights

Our newest Associate, William T. Raley, was one of the students involved in the University of Colorado Law School's American Indian Law Program. The program recently launched a first-of-its- kind educational toolkit to help American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians across the U.S. realize their rights to land recovery, religious freedoms, language revitalization, and child welfare.

The Tribal Implementation Toolkit highlights ways tribes have implemented the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a standard-setting document that recognizes the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including their self-determination. In close partnership with tribal leaders, lawyers, judges, scholars, and partner organizations, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and UCLA Law School, Colorado Law students studied and wrote about the ways in which tribes have incorporated the declaration into their own tribal codes, resolutions, and agreements.

"Professor Kristen Carpenter and the dedicated students in the American Indian Law Program witnessed nationwide, ongoing injustice and - through close collaboration and legal acumen - crafted and distributed a tool that empowers marginalized individuals and communities to successfully assert their rights," said Dean Lolita Buckner Inniss. ''The Tribal Implementation Toolkit is a prime example of how Colorado Law is redefining and refining excellence in legal education. This is what makes Colorado Law such an inspiring place to teach and learn."

The toolkit helps make the U.N. Declaration meaningful and accessible by emphasizing its real-world applications in the U.S., explained Kristen Carpenter, Council Tree Professor of Law and director of the American Indian Law Program at Colorado Law.

"Tribes don't necessarily have to go to the United Nations in Geneva or New York to advance their rights; they can do so practically at home," she said. "The toolkit looks to tribes for best practices. These are not top-down recommendations but deeply local examples of tribes using the declaration to advance their self-determination."

Following a virtual launch event, students resumed travel to Indigenous communities, and in November 2022, students in the Advanced Indian Law Seminar traveled to Oklahoma for workshops presenting the Tribal Implementation Toolkit to tribal leaders and community members in the Cherokee Nation and Pawnee Nation. Students presented on the application of the declaration in challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act, protection of tribal water sources, and remedies for federal Indian Boarding School programs. Students also met with traditional spiritual leader Crosslin Smith, who blessed them with a water ceremony and visited cultural and historic sites.

''The implementation project has had the opportunity to support several tribal governments, each taking a complementary yet unique path to make the promises of the declaration real in the lives of their Indigenous citizens," Carpenter said. "We are inspired to be part of the journey that Indigenous peoples are taking to implement the declaration."

The toolkit is a product of The Implementation Project, a joint initiative between Colorado Law and NARF, the oldest and largest nonprofit legal organization defending the rights of Native American tribes, organizations, and people, to implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the United States. Through this partnership, Colorado Law students gain practical experience in applying international human rights frameworks in American Indian law challenges. An upcoming publication of The Implementation Project will focus on human rights in Hawaii, as well as helping to navigate the United Nations. Learn more at

About our Associate, William Raley, who participated in the Tribal Law Program at CU Law School in 2022. In law school William focused on human interest projects, serving on the Executive Board of the National Native American Law Student Association and hosting its annual national Moot Court competition, and as a Deputy Director of the Acequia Assistance Project - which provides legal assistance to ditch irrigators in the San Luis Valley.

He also volunteered extensively with the Maya Land Rights Development Project - which is overseeing constitutional reform to protect the customary land rights of indigenous Maya in the country of Belize. While in school he clerked for the Native American Rights Fund, working on a wide range of projects including protection of religious freedom and opposition to development which infringed upon tribal sovereignty. Read more about William here.

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