Q&A with Taiawagi Helton
Knowledge of Indian law can be useful for Oklahoma businesses
Q: The University of Oklahoma College of Law offers extensive opportunities to study Indian law, including four degree and certificate programs. Why is Indian law important to Oklahoma?
A: Oklahoma has the second-largest American Indian population in the United States and its territory interlaces with nearly 40 tribal nations. The U.S. recognizes indigenous peoples as sovereigns with the right of self-governance. Tribal, federal and international Indian law includes a fascinating body of treaties, statutes, and judicial decisions that govern relations with, and defines the rights of, tribal nations.
Q: How does Indian law affect business in Oklahoma?
A: Oklahoma businesses may interact with tribes as governments or marketplace participants. Tribes contribute millions of dollars annually to the regional economy, creating altogether remarkable opportunities, but opportunities to which specific rules may apply. Those conducting business with the tribes may be affected in a variety of ways, relating, for example, to contracts, employment, tax (including both incentives and obligations), energy, public safety and sovereign immunity. Indian law may determine whether a dispute may be raised in tribal, state or federal court. It may determine how a contract can be interpreted or enforced. It may address permitting authority, make available natural resources — like water, timber, and minerals — or resolve questions of environmental jurisdiction.
Q: For non-lawyers, what is the importance of having a background in Indian law?
A: Knowledge of Indian law benefits anyone doing business, or aspiring to do business, with tribal organizations. The new Master of Legal Studies program in Indian law at OU Law provides flexible study through online courses and can be completed in just two years of part-time study. This innovative program is broad and interdisciplinary, but students will have the opportunity to refine their specialty further by choosing advanced courses relevant to their interests. The program is advised by a board of nationally and internationally renowned leaders, scholars, and practitioners whose oversight, combined with faculty experience, promotes an effective balance between deep theory and practical application.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER