Native American Law specialty opens prestigious doors for TU law student

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nathan Mendenhall's interest in the expansionist attitudes of American settlers and the repercussions inflicted on the indigenous peoples helped spur him toward studying Native American Law at The University of Tulsa College of Law. Now Nathan is interning with the United Nations in New York City and has a national writing award to his credit, on the strength of his Native American Law studies at TU.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2002, Mendenhall enrolled at the TU College of Law principally because of its nationally recognized Native American Law program. 

With the encouragement of TU law professors, Mendenhall entered a paper he had prepared for his Indian Gaming Law class in the International Association of Gaming Advisors national writing competition. The paper, entitled "Tracking 25 U.S.C. Section 2719: IGRA Exceptions to Indian Gaming on Newly Acquired Lands," earned Mendenhall one of two Shannon Bybee Scholarships, a nationally competitive award recognizing scholarship in gaming law. The other recipient was a student from Harvard Law School.

This accomplishment would cap a very successful year for many law students. Mendenhall, however, has built further on his success and accepted an internship with the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the Fall 2008 session.

Mendenhall was selected for the internship from more than 3,00 applicants. The Forum is located at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

His primary function has been a review of the Convention of Biological Diversity. He said he reviews each nation who signed the pact to ensure they developed a national policy or enacted legislation to preserve traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world.

Mendenhall’s duties have included work on treaties – both in their implementation as well as monitoring the involved party's adherence to completed treaties. He also is vetting the Second Decade of Indigenous Peoples grant applications to the United Nations, as well as working on other issues affecting indigenous peoples across the world.

He said he finds the work challenging and very interesting.

"I have been able to put my knowledge to use for the benefit of indigenous peoples," Mendenhall said. "This has been a very rewarding and beneficial experience."

He credits his success to three of his Indian Law professors who have mentored and encouraged him during his studies at TU's Native Law Program: Professors G. William Rice, Melissa Tatum and Judith Royster.

Although Mendenhall is enjoying his internship, he said he is anxious to return to Tulsa to complete his degree in the near future.

by Ed Parker (JD '69)

Jimmy Hart