James Sears Bryant of Enid, Oklahoma, was a history major with an impressive academic record. James wants to dedicate his life to working as a lawyer on behalf of Indian tribes in the United States, helping to solve the contemporary problems they face and to protect tribal sovereignty.
His numerous activities to date in exploring Indian issues and history – both on intellectual and activist levels – led him to the non-profit Native American Rights Fund (NARF), which he sees as the custodian of tribal sovereignty. The economic downturn has reduced the organization's federal funding, requiring programs to be cut back and a hiring freeze implemented. Most affected by this is their National Indian Law Library – an invaluable collection of treaties, statutes, tribal codes, judicial opinions and other documents, housed in NARF's office in Boulder, Colorado, and constituting the only public library in the U.S. that provides free research and information services relating to Indian law. This central clearinghouse for Indian legal materials is in crisis – its budget severely cut and permanent staff reduced to a single individual. As a result, the Library has had to suspend a vital project – the digitization of its many documents, in order to secure and preserve what forms the essence of tribal sovereignty for hundreds of tribes, and to make these documents publicly available through web-based software.
James served as the supervisor of the circulation desk of Firestone Library, and he feels this experience in organizing large collections of documents and making available new texts will be of great use to him in his project. He says: "I feel deeply that a wide-scale, unprecedented project of universally digitizing tribal codes and constitutions would show dramatic and measurable impact on the welfare of Indian people and tribal organizations. I could do a great service to an organization that performs vital work to a population who brilliantly maintains its own sovereignty and tradition while moving forward with economic and societal development.”
Class of 2010
The value of James' project is attested to by NARF (he "would be a tremendous asset to our organization"). He receives rave references from one of his Princeton professors ("James is smart, engaged and passionate about his interests in Native American legal issues…. This is a young man with a commitment to community service who is really going places."); from his supervisor at the Pace Center ("…a student possessed of an incisive understanding of complex social issues, a mature sensitivity to community norms, and an earnest devotion to social change."); from his summer internship supervisor at the Tennessee Justice Center ("…a devoted worker who skillfully completed projects with dedication, compassion, and intelligence…. His traits of genuineness, generosity, empathy, and his strong moral compass were evident in his work here."); and a Lakota Indian colleague ("…with James' determination I see him as being a great help to Native Americans in the future.").
James recently brought us up-to-date on his activities:
“The Tribal Law Digitization and Access Project is now underway. When I started here at NARF we had about 75 tribal codes digitized. Since I began my ReachOut 56-81 project on August 2, our library has seen 22 more of the roughly 250 codes in our
collection added to the ranks of the digitized! With each code, my presentation to tribes becomes more refined, my strategy and approach becomes more successful. These 22 are (and a few are rapidly becoming) available for free on our website's Tribal Law Gateway as well as for a fee on Westlaw, which acts as a partner to my project, providing annotation for each tribal code and constitution as well as access to tribal materials for the tribes that sign on to our project. This means that twenty-two new tribes have given us permission to post their constitutions and codes online so that anyone, anywhere can access them for free on our website.
“So far, through the guidance of David Selden, Law-Librarian-in-Chief of the National Indian Law Library, and with the help of our team of volunteers and work-study students (especially Kenny Richards and Mark Cheuvront), I am working steadily towards a full collection of online digitized codes and constitutions for the National Indian Law Library. The essence of the project, as I discussed during my presentation for the fellowship, is receiving permission from each tribe to digitize their legal content and post it online (no less important is identifying who has the authority to give such permission for each individual tribe and convincing this person or group). I have adopted essentially two strategies for getting these ‘permissions,’ one for the short term and one longer term.
“The first strategy requires approaching a tribe directly in what a salesman might refer to as a ‘cold call.’ During my first weeks at NARF/NILL I combed our collection for the tribes which showed the most potential – ones that NARF had relationships with but for whatever reason had not signed on to our digitalization project. These seventy-three tribes have been my initial targets. I research the governmental structure and history of each tribe, contact the appropriate tribal agency, and present to them our vision for the project over the phone, email, or through the post office. I answer their questions and show them examples of our work. But unlike a salesman I do not try to get them to ‘purchase’ what NILL is selling but instead demonstrate to them what benefits the nearly 100 tribes have seen in allowing the National Indian Law Library to digitize their tribal legal materials in the past and discuss the partnership we are offering to them. I have not always been successful, but often I have been.
“The second strategy is to coordinate advocates for transparency and access to tribal law across the nation. This was an idea that came from a brainstorming session with David Selden and a tribal judge who was at our library doing research one day. The idea
is to assemble a team of noteworthy individuals in the tribal, scholarly, and legal realms into a Tribal Law Access Support Committee. Tribal judges, executive leadership, NARF attorneys and staff as well as Executive Director John Echohawk, librarians, anthropologists, and others will formulate a statement making the case for why tribes benefit from signing on to my project. They could also advise me on how best to fulfill the goals of my fellowship and how most effectively to approach tribes and ask for
permission to digitize their codes and constitutions. We are currently soliciting the committee members now from our target list and it is my sincere wish to get Kevin Gover, a prominent attorney in Indian law, former head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, current
director of the Museum of the American Indian, and a Princeton alumnus of the class of 1978, involved in the committee. We plan on getting the committee up and running in about a month's time and I look forward to informing you on its progress in my next
“Another project that I completed which will be launched in the next few days was a comprehensive collection bringing together all known tribal provisions relating to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) as part of NARF's "Practical Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act." The guide is available online at http://www.narf.org/icwa/index.htm. Once it is added to the guide, my collection will assist attorneys, judges, and social workers in adoption and child abuse cases by providing a simpler way to navigate tribal law relating to ICWA. Another project currently underway involves incorporating state 'law into the "Practical Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act" from all 50 states. I also designed and maintain a page on our website explaining the origins, enactment, and impact of the recently adopted Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. The page brings together resources for attorneys and the community to understand the new legislation and its scope. Here is the page: http://www.narf.org/nill/resources/tloa.html.
“In addition to the process of collecting and digitizing tribal codes and constitutions and other projects related to tribal law, I have been busy at NARF/NILL 8performing other important and edifying tasks. Since week one I have been the author and editor of our Supreme Court Bulletin, a weekly summary of Indian Law cases currently in the United States Supreme Court. The bulletin reaches over 1,000 subscribers, mostly tribal officials, students, and attorneys in Indian Law, and can be read online every week at http://narf.org/nill/bulletins/sct/2010-2011update.htm. I am also a ‘pinch hitter’ for the other weekly Indian Law Bulletins, filling in and updating our summaries of federal trial court, United States Court of Appeals, and State Supreme Court cases as
well as legislative, regulatory, and other news and journal articles. http://narf.org/nill/bulletins/ilb.htm.
I also service an average of 4 to 5 research requests each day, from attorneys, tribal officials, students, prisoners, and the public, on topics from A to Z, from the Abenaki Nation of Vermont to the Zuni Tribe of New Mexico. These are fun because each research request teaches me something new and something different about tribal law. Some of them are simple – for instance, help me find statutes relating to cattle grazing within my tribe's code – and others are more complex, such as one request which asked for assistance in developing tribal code procedures to prevent the purchase of electoral votes on his reservation. David Selden has been an invaluableleader in my time here at NARF; I would be lost without his patience and guidance.
Regarding a performance evaluation so far, Mr. Selden reports: "James Bryantis a tremendous asset to the National Indian Law Library and is contributing greatly. Heparticipates directly in providing essential core services relating to the library’s mission.James is helping us provide high quality service despite a reduced library staff and steadyincrease in requests from the public."
Here is James again. “These first few months at the Native American RightsFund have been full of learning and also action. Through your generous support I am ableto fulfill my professional dreams here in Boulder and I thank you immensely for thistremendous opportunity. I will continue to work hard in line with our mission of theReachOut 56-81 Fellowship. Feel free to contact me with any questions or if I can servicethe ReachOut program in any way, by presenting to prospective applicants or otherwise.My business and family will bring me to the New Jersey area from time to time in thenext year. Incidentally, our class notes chair contacted me recently about NARF and ourproject is featured in 2010 Class Notes section of this month's PAW magazine.
Thank you once again for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I look forward tokeeping you up to speed with my progress here in Boulder.”