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Online Degree Targets Federal Indian Law

Susan Shannon

The University of Oklahoma’s Law Schoolwill be offering a new online degree from the OU Law School.  It’s a Master of Legal Studiesin Indigenous Peoples Law.

The OU Law School is located in the heart of the original Indian Territory with nationally and internationally known faculty.

Taiawagi Helton, of Cherokeedescent, is one of the professors teaching in the new program.

“It’s a 30 hour degree,” he said. “We recognized that legal education is shifting and dynamic and that there are a lot of people who are interested in forming relationships with tribal groups or tribal entities, or they already work for a tribal group.

The degree is largely online, allowing students to continue their employment and live almost anywhere. Entry requirements include a Bachelor’s degree and references.

“I think every undergraduate degree is a good preparation for law school,” Helton said. “They've all got different skill sets but if you're an engineer, it gives you an analytical framework that is quite effective. If you're an English major it gives you writing experience that's essential to a law degree.”

The structure of the courses provides a broad survey of Federal Indian Law, with a core set of specialty classes to meet a student’s particular interest. Native Americans, Helton said are “almost naturally legalistic. Our leadership styles tend to be by persuasion rather than by the use of power/force, so structuring logical arguments has been a long part of our traditions.”

Helton also said the lives of Native Americans are permeated by administrative and federal Indian law, providing insight into this legal arena.

“We end up knowing a great deal about administrative processes and about law but never get it in a broad contextualized study,” Helton said. “So if you're a tribal employee you have been exposed to a lots of little pieces of the law but you can't put those pieces together in a coherent fashion.

The program hopes students will be able to stay in their jobs, taking the bulk of classes online, and then apply what their learning to the workplace.

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