Cherokee youth explore law careers

Twenty high school students from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians had the opportunity to explore careers in law during the College Careers and Technology (C-CAT) program at Wake Forest University July 19-21.

C-CAT is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Wake Forest University, and currently directed by the Religion and Public Engagement Initiative in the Department of Religion with support by American Ethnic Studies.

The theme of the 2010 program co-hosted by the Wake Forest School of Law is “Law Professions and American Indian Law.”

The students along with a number of educators attended a variety of sessions held in the Worrell Professional Center including “Introduction to Indian Law” by law Professor Steve Virgil, director of the university’s Institute for Public Engagement, and adjunct law professor and alumni David Smith (’84). Smith, who teaches an Indian Law course, played an integral role in what could be one of the largest class-action victories against the federal government in U.S. history. The American Indian Plaintiffs on Dec. 8, 2009, announced a $3.4 billion settlement in the case of Cobell v. Salazar, which was filed in 1996 and alleged the government mismanaged the individual Indian trust.

Professor Maureen Eggert, associate director of Research and Instruction, led the Law School faculty team, while law Professor Carol Turowski, co-director of the Innocence and Justice Clinic, taught a session on the law school’s Innocence Project.

There were also sessions introducing students to legal research tools and skills, and integrating higher education and Cherokee culture.

In addition, students attended a cultural diversity workshop about navigating college and a round-table with law school students.

“This program, organized mostly by main campus faculty, is intended to introduce an underrepresented group — the Cherokee — to college,” Eggert explained. “Past years’ themes included science and medicine. This year it is law.”

The program helps high school students prepare for college in the context of Cherokee culture, values, history and community. Among other skills, the students learned how to use technology-based research tools and develop problem-solving skills in the law. Students also met American Indian role models and researched legal issues facing American Indians in the Southeast.

“This is the fourth year of developing culturally-based college career seminars with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians,” said Ulrike Wiethaus, professor of religion and American ethnic studies. “The summer session at Wake Forest is part of an innovative and highly successful initiative to increase college attendance for tribal members through annual student group visits to nearby colleges and universities.”

WFU faculty and students hope to build on this summer’s experiences with additional programs and collaborative projects with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Wiethaus added.