Yesterday, the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) Board of Governors affirmed a 2004 Board decision to add federal Indian jurisdiction to Washington's bar exam, by adopting a customized version of the Uniform Bar Exam, effective 2013, which will still include Indian law. Washington Tribal leaders had passionately urged the Board to maintain Indian law as a state bar exam topic, as it has been since 2007.
According to a letter from Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians President and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chairman Brian Cladoosby to the Board and the Deans of the three Washington State law schools, in October 2010:
I and my tribal leader colleagues are very pleased that since the State Bar Governors resolved to test federal Indian law on our state’s exam, we have begun to see a noticeable change in understanding and attitude among the public and private legal practitioners we interact with on a routine basis. We tribal leaders and our lawyers now spend less time in discussions with other governmental leaders and lawyers having to lay the foundation of tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction. The role of tribes in the governmental structure of our nation seems to be both better understood and accepted. This often allows us to get on with discussing the substance of our differences, so we can work towards agreement and consensus with the state and local governments as well as private entities. That benefits the all of our Tribes’ and our State’s citizens
Indian law is too important a topic to be eliminated or relegated to something other than the State bar exam. Federal Indian law is right where it belongs: on the Washington State bar exam and at the forefront of the minds of our State’s lawyers and the hearts of Washington’s tribal citizens.
In July 2010, Washington Indian Gaming Association President and Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Allen also wrote to the Board and local law school Deans:
The inclusion of Indian law on our State’s bar exam is a big deal to Indian Country. . .
Over the course of my nearly forty-year career in state, regional and national Indian politics, I have witnessed Washington State evolve towards the forefront of tribal/state relations. The Board of Governors’ decision in 2004 was another example of our State’s leadership in that regard. . . .
As a longtime elected Tribal leader, I feel an increasingly strong sense of a reciprocity and comity between our Tribal Governments and Washington State with regard to the inclusion of Indian law on the state bar exam – a feeling that must be honored, cherished and protected by us all of us in leadership positions for sake of our citizens and constituents.
I hope you will maintain federal Indian law as a topic on the Washington State bar exam.
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna joined Chairman Cladoosby and Allen in late 2010, urging the Board to keep testing Indian law on Washington's bar exam.
The central premise of the Board's decision to add the topic in 2004 was that "the integrity and competence of the legal profession in this state would be enhanced if attorneys licensed by the WSBA generally understood significant federal Indian jurisdictional principles." By affirming that decision, not only has the Board strengthened state-tribal relations in Washington State but the Board has bolstered the State Bar Association's core mission: to ensure the protection of the public -- Native and non-Native citizens alike.
(Yesterday, based on a social media posting from the Governor's meeting, that the "WSBA Board of Governors voted today to replace essay-only WA bar exam with uniform exams beginning by 2013," I erroneously reported that Indian law was left on the cutting room floor. My apologies to the Board and to anybody confused by my NPR-style reporting.)
Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm. He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California. He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via galandabroadman.com.