By Andy Samuelson
Native American people and the political and legal issues that impact them are often overlooked in universities. A new program at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law aims to address this by providing future tribal leaders, and the lawyers who will work with them, with educational opportunities in tribal gaming and governance.
UNLV Boyd Law’s Indian Nations Gaming & Governance Program was established in February 2020, thanks to a $3 million gift from the Southern California-based San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. The program consists of specialized academic training for J.D. and LL.M. students in Indian gaming law, federal Indian law, and tribal sovereignty and governance.
Through the program, students—both Native and non-Native—gain fundamental knowledge about the nuanced world of Indian gaming, whose laws and policies differ significantly from that of traditional gaming.
The scholastic component is bolstered by public programming for diverse audiences, as well as academic and policy research, and conferences and symposia examining current issues in tribal gaming and governance. The goals are to make space for inclusive dialogue to address the critical challenges facing tribal communities in gaming and governance, and to recognize the ways that tribes have led the way in gaming regulation and law.
“Our law school has long had a strong relationship with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, thanks in part to adjunct professor Greg Gemignani, who for many years has invited guest lecturers from San Manuel and other Native communities to speak to his class on federal laws and Indian gaming,” says Sara Gordon, UNLV Boyd Law’s acting dean. “From the beginning of that relationship, the San Manuel Band expressed a strong desire to expand the conversation around Indian gaming to include Native governance and sovereignty.
“Thanks to this generous gift, the law school now has the gaming and governance infrastructure in place to make a meaningful contribution to both conversations.”
At the helm of the new program is Addie C. Rolnick, who was appointed as faculty director of the Indian Nations Gaming & Governance program and who also took on the title of San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Professor of Law.
Rolnick, who is non-Native, has worked on behalf of tribal governments for 20 years, including teaching classes at UNLV Boyd Law in Indian and tribal law. Her work as a lawyer and law professor has focused on defending legal rights for indigenous peoples, including protections for children, and supporting tribal courts.
“It is an incredible honor to lead this program and to serve in a professorship named for a tribal government,” says Rolnick, who joined the UNLV Boyd Law faculty in 2011. “This professorship honors the San Manuel Band’s leadership in legal education and makes visible their efforts and those of other tribes in building the fields of tribal law, gaming, and economic development.”
The Indian Gaming & Governance Program will introduce three new courses in spring 2021, taught by two professors in residence: Kathryn Rand and Steven Light from the University of North Dakota School of Law.
Rand, who was the first woman to serve as North Dakota School of Law dean (2009-18), is one of the leading legal academic authorities on Indian gaming and an expert in tribal-state relations and federal Indian law. Light, who co-directs the North Dakota School of Law’s Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law & Policy, is an expert on tribal gaming enterprises and economic development.
Upon arriving at UNLV Boyd Law, Rand will teach Tribal Gaming Law, Light will teach Contemporary Issues in Tribal Governance, and the pair will co-instruct a course called Guided Research and Writing in Indian Gaming.
“Professors Rand and Light have deep expertise in the specific issues that arise at the intersection of gaming regulation, federal Indian law, and tribal-state relations,” says Rolnick, who as a practicing lawyer once represented tribal governments in Washington, D.C. “They have developed an interdisciplinary approach to the study of tribal gaming that will benefit UNLV Boyd as we develop this new program.”
In addition to the new classes being offered to UNLV Boyd Law students, the law school will offer public-facing workshops and conferences that address tribal gaming, sovereignty, governance, and law.
The first public program, which took place in fall 2020, was a national webinar discussing the history of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (the 1988 federal law that established the legal framework for tribal gaming). The second virtual session, in October, considered tribal governments’ forays into sports betting and, specifically, how tribes and states have incorporated sports betting into compact negotiations.
“Launching a new program has obviously been challenging in a pandemic, but the move online made our programming more available to a national audience, especially those working for tribes where travel funding and spare time to attend education programs are limited,” says Rolnick, who noted the program is also preparing a series of free online trainings focused on different aspects of tribal governance and gaming operations.
“In the future, we will hold annual in-person conferences on issues related to tribal gaming while also continuing to offer online programming.” she says.
With the conferences, Rolnick hopes to provide an academic complement to the work of national organizations such as the National Indian Gaming Association, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Reservation Economic Summit.
“Although gaming has been a critical driver of economic development for tribes for more than 30 years, the academic study of Indian gaming law and regulation has lagged behind, especially in law schools,” she says. “With this program, we hope to provide a space for robust scholarly conversation on the future of tribal gaming and how it relates to other areas of law, including federal Indian law, regulation, tribal law, and economic development. The partnership with the San Manuel Band helps ensure that law schools and universities are accountable to tribes as they do this.”
The Indian Nations Gaming & Governance Program is a key part of UNLV’s overall commitment to collaborate with tribal governments, including those in Nevada—such as the neighboring Las Vegas Paiute Tribe and Moapa Band of Paiutes—and nationally. Programs such as this will help the university recruit and support indigenous students, faculty, and staff. The curriculum also aims to train future lawyers to interact respectfully and knowledgeably with tribal clients.
“Our goal is to link rich scholarly engagement with strong public programming that will benefit tribes nationally and locally, along with the legal community and the state of Nevada,” Rolnick says.