NALSA Panel – Environmental Law in Indian Country: Building Tribal Capacity

March 24, 2014

As part of its ongoing forums on federal Indian law, the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) recently hosted a panel on environmental law in Indian Country at Yale Law School’s New Directions in Environmental Law Conference. Speakers included Bethany Berger, Thomas F. Gallivan, Jr. Professor of Real Property Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, and Jordan Thompson, Associate General Counsel for Energy Keepers, Inc., a tribally owned corporation of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes. Professor Berger described the legal landscape of environmental law in Indian Country, covering tribes’ role in environmental protection under federal statutes, jurisdictional issues, cultural claims, treaty rights, and recent developments in building tribes’ capacity to manage their natural resources.

Mr. Thompson discussed how tribal self-determination in natural resource management is working for his tribe by focusing on the story of the Kerr Dam, which the federal government built on a sacred site without tribal approval in the 1930s. When the Salish and Kootenai Tribes acquire the dam in 2015, they will become the first tribes in the nation to own and operate a major hydropower facility. Mr. Thompson explained how the acquisition has transformed the dam from “a symbol of a tribe destroyed” to “a symbol of a tribe reclaiming its power.”