Friday, July 8, 2011

Profile of Adjunct Professor Troy A. Eid, who will teach "Environmental Law, Energy & Natural Resources in Indian County"

In the fall 2011 semester Denver Law will introduce an important new course, “Environmental Law, Energy & Natural Resources in Indian Country,” which will be taught by nationally recognized American Indian law expert Troy A. Eid.

An earlier blog posting, which can be accessed by clicking here, described the course and included the syllabus.

Today Mr. Eid tells Environment and Natural Resources 21 about the course and why he is teaching it.

ENR21: Why is this an important and timely course?
TAE: This new course explores the vibrant and increasingly important role that tribes play in contemporary U.S. society through the prism of environmental law, energy, and natural resources. I've designed this course to be accessible to any interested graduate student. It doesn't matter if you've previously studied Indian law, or if you've lived or worked on or near an Indian reservation.

The University of Denver College of Law already has a nationally recognized Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program. This new course provides a bridge between that Program and "Indian Country,” the legal term that the U.S. Congress uses to define Indian Reservations and other Native American lands held in trust by the federal government for the benefit of Indian tribes and nations.

Federal statutes use the terms "Indians" and "Native Americans" to include American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. These are the descendants of indigenous people who lived in what is now the United States long before Europeans arrived.

Today, the federal government officially recognizes 565 different Indian tribes and nations. Each is "sovereign" -- self-governing political entities whose roots pre-date the U.S. Constitution. Our Constitution expressly recognizes three sources of sovereignty within our system of government: The federal government, states, and Indian tribes.

Yet few non-Native Americans are directly exposed to the modern reality -- and enduring strength -- of self-governing Indian tribes and nations within the U.S. political system. Our popular culture tends to be backward-focused, dominated by stereotypes or misconceptions about Native Americans and tribal governments.

The connections between Indian Country and environmental and natural resources law and public policy are increasingly important but not always well-understood. For instance, roughly three percent of the total land area of the United States consists of Indian Country, yet these same lands contain at least 10 percent -- and perhaps much more -- of our country's estimated energy reserves.

Some of the biggest natural gas development projects in the country, for example, are currently taking place on Indian tribal lands. Energy infrastructure projects and public works frequently enter Indian lands or reach into non-tribal public and private lands where tribal governments continue to have current legal interests under the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and other laws.

At the same time, innovative technologies, such as shale and coal gasification, hold enormous potential for strengthening tribal governments that have often been deprived of a credible tax base by operation of federal laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Tribes are developing their own renewable energy projects using solar, wind and geothermal resources, encouraged by some federal and state policies and penalized by many others.

Tribal governments have also banded together through organizations such as the Denver-based Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT), a non-profit coalition of 58 energy-producing Indian tribes. To foster such development, many tribal governments are adjudicating their water resources in a way that will shape the economies of entire regions of the United States for decades to come.

Indian nations are asserting and reasserting their inherent sovereign powers by creating and implementing environmental policies and programs reflecting their own priorities and perspectives, and by informing federal and state policies through government-to-government consultation.
ENR21: What are your objectives with respect to the course?
TAE: It starts with basic cultural and civic literacy. Anyone who aspires to learn more about being an American -- whether a U.S. citizen or a guest from another country -- should gain insight into Indian Country and the people who make it special. This is especially true for those living, working and studying in Colorado and the West.

Many of the values and experience that make being a "Westerner" so unique, and which we admire and idealize, come in part from the indigenous people who've lived here from time immemorial and to this day. This includes concepts of sustainability, environmental stewardship, self-reliance, and individual respect for and accountability to a larger community and society.

How the U.S. government treats (and mistreats) Native Americans, tribal governments, and Indian lands through our modern legal system and institutions says a great deal about who we all are as Americans, where we've been, and what we hope to become.

There's also sheer pragmatism. As an attorney working in the trenches, my own law practices serves tribal governments as well as companies and institutions doing business with them. Navigating Indian Country can be incredibly confusing to lawyers with little or no prior experience. Yet it happens much more often than might be supposed, and to a great many attorneys and business leaders from all walks of life.

Non-Native Americans in my experience are sometimes stunned to learn that individual Indian tribes and nations have their own laws, court systems, administrative and regulatory agencies, and political agendas on the regional, national and international stage.

This course is to help prepare students for what they'll encounter in the "real world" of American Indian law and practice, while helping provide an introduction to this exciting aspect of being a Citizen of the West.

One thing is certain: Indian law will become more and not less important in the years ahead. The enduring strength of Indian tribes and nations as a cultural and political force, along with the massive natural resources of tribal nations and traditional lands, and the need to protect those resources and ensure environmental quality, make for an exciting future.
ENR21: How and why did you become interested in Indian law?
TAE: I've worked in and around Indian Country for nearly 25 years in different roles. As Colorado's United States Attorney from 2004-2008, I was responsible for felony prosecution on the two Indian nations headquartered within the boundaries of the state of Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

Working as the Chief Legal Counsel to Colorado Governor Bill Owens, I participated in many negotiations with these tribes, including an agreement regulating air quality in Southwestern Colorado. Earlier in my career, I worked as a Legislative Assistant for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona before I went to law school.

I'm not a Native American. My Mother is white and from rural Wisconsin. My Dad was Egyptian and immigrated to the United States in 1957, when he was 17 years old, with just $100 to his name.

Dad attended British schools in Cairo before the military coup in the early 1950s. Much of his own education, which focused on the cultural assimilation of young Egyptians of that era into the Colonial system, bore some similarity to some of the experiences of Native Americans in the United States.

Until the late 1970s, it was the policy of the U.S. government to assimilate Native American children and young people through boarding schools. Ironically, one of my clients today is a former Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school on the Navajo Nation. That school is now run by the Navajo Nation itself under a federal contract with the BIA. Its school board is elected from the community. Instead of punishing students for speaking Dine' (Navajo) as in the not-too-distant past, the school provides instruction in both languages and works to preserve and respect Navajo traditional law, culture and traditions.
Editor's note: Troy A. Eid chairs the Training Committee of the Navajo Nation Bar Association, responsible for training and testing lawyers seeking admission to practice before the Navajo Supreme Court and trial courts. He was a marshall in the annual Navajo Nation Fair parade in Window Rock, Arizona last fall.

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